Thursday night harness racing has been extended at Rideau Carleton Raceway, and officials are praising the provincial government for reversing a decision, restoring the track’s twice-weekly race calendar.
“I don’t see how we could’ve gotten by on one day a week,” said track announcer and handicapper Norm Borg.
Rideau Carleton offers live horse racing on Thursday and Sunday evenings.
The track had been told to scale back to Sundays only —– a move officials and members of the National Capital Region Harness Horse Association considered untenable for the health of the industry.
“It just doesn’t generate the kind of revenue that the track needs, and certainly the horse people would need to stick around, and so we’re happy with that,” Borg said.
The Ontario Racing Commission’s ruling on Friday is a “major victory in the fight to keep harness racing alive and well in Ottawa,” said Borg.
“They initially rejected the track’s request to continue with Thursday nights after Sept. 19 but the commission reversed that on an appeal by track management.”
Rideau Carleton began operating in 1962.
Horse racing has been in Ontario since the late 1700s; the country’s oldest form of legal gaming employs an estimated 60,000 people — 400 in Ottawa.
Premier Kathleen Wynne, also agriculture minister, appears to be trying to make amends with rural voters after the Liberals, under Dalton McGuinty, slashed an annual $345-million subsidy to the horse racing sector, directing the money into health and education.
That has resulted in about 9,000 jobs being lost since 2011, according to the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association.
The government made a commitment last May to create a concrete plan for long-term sustainability and a five year plan is in the works by the horse racing industry transition panel, with the final version due next month.
Rideau Carleton has been granted permission to resume Thursday racing until Dec. 31.
That’s heading in “the right direction and a promising sign that the provincial government is sincere in its desire to maintain a vibrant, sustainable harness racing industry,” said Borg.
The government is providing 12 racetracks with transition funding for the 2013-2014 racing season.
City council recently voted in favour of a new provincial casino at the raceway.
Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, who coveted a casino in Kanata, told a Toronto radio show the current horse track “is a little tiny ‘C’ track that wouldn’t even make it in the Idaho State fair.”