Bad news on the horizon for horsepeople and live harness racing enthusiasts, after the announcement that there will be no horse races in Saskatoon’s Maquis Downs. This is the second season in a row that has been canceled due to the unprecedented situation and its rules surrounding it. This has left a rather bitter taste in the staff involved such as trainers, jockeys, and even fans of the sport.
Due to the unfortunate circumstances and government-implemented rules, Prairieland Park most recently announced that this season will be voided as well. The main reason for that is the traveling restrictions that limit most of the track’s jockeys to return to Canada, with 76% of them originating from the Caribbean. Another factor for the cancellation is the lack of live attendance and financial support.
Marketing manager of Prairieland Park Kristy Rempel spoke on the recent matter of discussions and addressed the current situation of the industry. According to Ms. Rempel, the horse racing sector is enduring one of its toughest spells and it will be very difficult to get out of it. She also stated that the decision to cancel the season was not an easy one but it complies with the larger picture of the park and its policies during the financial crisis.
Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association Saskatchewan division president Eddie Esquirol informed that the park has proposed 18 and 20-day racing seasons in the negotiations about restarting the business. But according to him, many horsepeople will be looking to relocate racing for the season due to being rather short, making them unable to earn back their investments.
Mr. Equirol explained that other locations like Lethbridge and Winnipeg are proceeding with their respective season since people can watch live broadcasts of the races and place bets online. This is currently an alternative since live attendances at the tracks are still prohibited. However, Saskatoon’s track does not have the needed equipment for simulcasting thus losing on potential revenue.
Nicole Hein the only female jockey at the park has taken a firm stance on the issue. Ms. Hein is currently fighting for the future of the horse racing industry in the province. In her words, she could have chosen another province for the upcoming season but preferred to stay and fight for the industry in her home. She even critiqued the park’s decision to cancel the season and even claimed that horsepeople were not included in the negotiations regarding reopening.
The situation concerning is rather contrasting in comparison with other provinces. For example, recently Ontario has been given the green light to reopen four of its tracks to the return of the live harness racing seasons. The first events took place on February 16, 2021, with the staff of the reopened premises complying with the mandatory health and safety measures. Rideau Carleton Raceway, Woodbine Mohawk Park, Western Fair District, and Flamboro Downs all restarted operations last month.
The ongoing talks of the legalization of single-game betting have been a subject of extensive discussions around Canada for a while now. And most recently Ontario’s horse racing leaders Woodbine Entertainment and Ontario Racing have given their blessing for the proposed change in the gambling rules, after initial fears that this might lead to cannibalization of the industry and hurt its welfare.
Source: Ratzlaff, Brady “Sask. horse jockeys ‘extremely disappointed’ after racing season cancelled again”, Global News, March 1, 2021