10/22/2009 11:00PM

Closing for Olympics will hurt Hastings purses


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Citing a poor economy and a decline in wagering, management at Hastings has decided to end the 2009 racing season a day early. The meet was originally scheduled to finish on Nov. 8. Instead, in culmination with the simulcast of the Breeders' Cup from Santa Anita, Hastings will close on Nov. 7.

In addition to a deficit in the purse pool, part of the reason for the early closure is a hedge against what figures to be a tough year in horse racing in 2010. No numbers have been released, but there is surely going to be a drop in purses next year when Hastings is being forced by the Vancouver Olympic Committee to close its casino and simulcast area for the month of February. The winter Olympics will be held in Vancouver from Feb. 12-28.

The Olympic Committee is forcing Hastings to close because it is within the security footprint of the Pacific Coliseum, which will host figure skating and short-track speed skating. Both venues are on the Pacific National Exhibition grounds and are a stone's throw from each other.

According to officials at Hastings, the closure will cost the purse pool roughly $600,000.

"There isn't anything we can do about it," said Raj Mutti, general manager at Hastings. "We have negotiated with the City and VANOC all year but we haven't gotten anywhere."

The barn area will be open for training in February, and in order to access the grounds horsemen will be required to get clearance from the Vancouver Olympic Committee.

"Horsemen will have access to the track but security is going to be tight," said Mutti. "I would encourage the ones that can train on training centers to wait as long as possible before moving into the track."

Even without the Olympics, Hastings was looking at either cutting purses or running fewer days next year. The purses for the last couple of years have been based on potential revenue from the 600 slots that were installed in 2008. The slots have helped, but haven't been the panacea everyone was hoping for. Plus, the overall live mutuel handle has dropped by 15 percent this year.

"Bad timing had a lot to do with it all," said Mutti. "We raised the purses when we opened the slots in August 2008, and then not long after that the economy crashed. Plus we had a lot of snow last winter, which also didn't help. We've been in deficit ever since."

The horsemen at Hastings also owe the local Standardbred association more than $6 million. Fraser Downs, the local Standardbred track, had its slots floor open a few years before Hastings opened its facility. While the two horsemen's associations were trying to work out deals in sharing slot and simulcasting revenue, purses at Hastings were being funded by slot revenue from Fraser Downs. The total came to $7.5 million. A deal was reached last year where the money will be paid back over a 10-year period.

Mutti is looking at 2010 as a year to regroup.

"We really have to make a lot of tough decisions regarding next year," he said. "I would rather have one tough year and then move forward instead of having the problems carry on over the next few years. We are working with the horsemen, and I'm confident we can get over the hurdles that are facing the industry."

Debbie Peebles, who was recently elected president of the local chapter of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, will be working with Mutti on trying to resolve the problems facing the industry.

"I'm not happy about losing the last day," she said. "But, we have to be fiscally responsible and we need to look forward, not backwards."

Victor's Magic needs a clean trip

Trainer Quint McCabe is hoping Victor's Magic has a clean trip when he stretches out to 1 1/16 miles for the first time Sunday in the $100,000 Ascot Graduation for 2-year-olds.

Victor's Magic scored an impressive win when he debuted in a maiden special weight race going 3 1/2 furlongs May 16, but in three subsequent stakes races he had rough trips. In his last start in the Jack Diamond Futurity, he was sawed off leaving the gate, and then was forced at least four wide going into the first turn. Victor's Magic moved closer to the rail and started to make a strong move going down the backstretch, but had to steady hard when he ran into a wall of horses nearing the quarter pole.

After regaining his momentum, he got stopped again midway around the stretch turn. Victor's Magic finished a well-beaten fifth and while nobody was going to beat Silly Fella, Victor's Magic probably would have been second with clear sailing.

"He's just been an unlucky horse," said McCabe. "Hopefully going this far they'll be a little more spread out and he won't get stopped so many times. He's certainly training well enough, so we'll give him one more shot."