06/12/2008 11:00PM

Bowles looks to future

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - As an active member of the Fort Erie backstretch for more than 50 years, trainer Norman Bowles, 68, has a unique perspective on the track's past and future.

This year's lower purses and reduced number of racing days have cast a cloud over the track, he says.

"In all my years on this backstretch, I don't think I have ever seen the morale of the horsemen quite the same as it is today," said Bowles. "We need a spark to brighten things up, and maybe the recent announcement of that hotel and entertainment project will be a lead-in to better news about the future of this track."

An announcement by the Fort Erie Economic Development and Tourism Corp. indicated that planning is going forward and money has been allocated for preliminary work on a $300 million hotel, housing, and entertainment complex proposed by track owner Nordic Gaming Corp.

The two organizations, in partnership, have released a blueprint of the proposed development, which will be situated on racetrack property and not far from the current casino and track grandstand.

A turnaround in the track's fortunes is sorely needed, Bowles says.

"In past years there were times when rumors had the track's future in peril, but it held in there," he said. "This time, I am not so sure."

Problems with his back and his balance have limited Bowles in his stable activity, yet he is as keen as ever to get the best out of his horses.

"At the moment I have three horses, but expecting two more from Toronto in the next while and that is plenty for me," said Bowles. "The three I have right now are all maidens, so I am looking forward to my first win of the year."

Bowles takes a laid-back approach and is definitely not one to rush into things. This year he has started runners twice at Woodbine and once at the Fort.

"We expect to win a few this year," said Bowles. "It is just a matter of getting them ready and spotting them in the right place. With maidens, the decisions come much easier."

In his career, Bowles has sent out more than 1,000 starters, won at a 9 percent clip, and garnered purses of just over $1 million.

"Early in my Thoroughbred experience I spent some time working for the New York-based conditioner Eddie Neloy," said Bowles. "He trained some top horses for the Phipps family and was my mentor when it came time to move out on my own."

Although the announcement about the entertainment complex made no reference to live racing as such, the optimists at the track see a silver lining as planning on the overall project goes forward.

"I hope those optimists have it right," said Bowles. "I love this old track and look forward to many more seasons on the backstretch."

A winning good-bye

When Wholelottabourbon was claimed by Six Brothers Stable for $4,000 from MAD Stable and Martha Gonzalez last Sunday, an overflow crowd packed the winner's circle to say goodbye to the 6-year-old gelding.

The partnership had owned the Nick Gonzalez-trained stakes winner since his debut in 2004.

Wholelottabourbon relied on his good speed to win seven races, several stakes, and more than $430,000.

* Trainer Daryl Ezra and owner Stephen Chesney have renewed their successful partnership after going their separate ways over the winter. Last year, continuing their winning record of 2006, the two combined to win 13 races at Fort Erie and Woodbine and banked more than $250,000 in purse money.

* Longtime Fort Erie veterinarian Dr. Graham Gardiner died Wednesday following a long illness. He was 73. He had been the Ontario Racing Commission vet here for more than 30 years.

- additional reportingby Bill Tallon