Harness racing may not continue after April 30.
Harness Racing B.C. announced March 31 that a recent government funding request had been denied.
“This morning we had an industry phone call … with Doug Scott, the assistant deputy minister. It was stated that the government does not have good news and is currently not in a position financially to support the horse racing industry,” Nigel Holmes, Harness Racing B.C.’s executive director, said in a post to members on the Harness Racing B.C. website. “Obviously this was not the answer we had wanted and it puts us in a position of not being able to race beyond our current April dates.”
Horse racing in B.C. usually gets a sliver of gaming revenue, which is granted yearly, or every two years, after funding applications are submitted. The current racing season, a shortened season, ends April 30 and was funded through a grant approved in a previous year.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown horse racing’s purse model into chaos as funding in B.C. mostly comes from slot machine revenue. With casinos closed, there is no money coming in.
Holmes said Harness Racing B.C.’s board of directors will now meet to try to figure out how they move forward. He said they will also consult the Horse Racing Industry Management Committee in an effort to get the government to continue to support horse racing.
“As an industry, we will also be looking to put the pressure on the government to increase our share of the slot revenues once casinos reopen.”
The gaming grant supports both standardbred and thoroughbred horse racing.
Brent Hill, a trainer at the racetrack in Cloverdale, is concerned for the future of all horse racing in B.C.
He said the loss of funding will likely destroy the horse racing industry and will likely mean the death of unwanted horses.
“What do we do now? There is no Plan B.”
Hill said with no funding, he too doubts there will be any racing this fall. Fall is the traditional start of the racing season as it runs September to April.
“We buy yearlings in the fall to get them ready to race the following year,” explained Hill. “I purchased six yearlings last year and they take about 8-10 months to train. With no money, they won’t be racing.”
He said if the potential to earn money is taken away from horse racing, then the future of a lot of horses is very uncertain.
“It’s just money out of our pocket to train them.”
He’s hopeful the provincial government can see value in horse racing and what it can bring to people and communities.
“The NDP has said they aren’t big supporters of horse racing.” Hill added. “We’ve got a lot of history in B.C., 80 years, but they’re doing their best to crush it.”
He said the one thing owners and trainers alway have is hope—hope for the next race, hope for a win on the track.
“Take that away, take the money away, it’s pretty bleak.”