10/12/2012 1:48PM

Fort Erie: Backside workers would be among victims of racetrack closure


FORT ERIE, Ontario – The horse population at Fort Erie continues to thin out in these final days of the 2012 season, which could be the last race meet at this 115-year-old track.

The 2013 season and future years were put in serious jeopardy for this track and others in Ontario last spring following the provincial government’s decision to cancel racetrack slots program partnership agreements. The lack of slots money threatens the viability of some racetracks, both Thoroughbred and Standardbred.

Whitey Guyan has been working as a groom and hotwalker at Woodbine in the spring and fall and Fort Erie during its season for many years. Now 68, he is very disturbed over the actions of the government and its consequences.

“What am I to do now that the Fort is probably closing?”said Guyan. “Find a new job at my age, doing what?”

His fellow grooms and hotwalkers have the same viewpoint, especially those who have been in the horse business for decades.

“Woodbine will have no room for us, and even the length of their meet can be in jeopardy,” said Guyan. “Who wants to race only for five months then board horses for seven? It is no longer a practical business for many horsemen.”

Guyan questioned where all the Fort Erie horses would go. Most cannot compete at Woodbine.

“Already, even before the meet is over, we have strangers on the backside looking to buy horses,” said Guyan. “It chokes us old guys up. The government has no idea what they have done to us, nor, it seems, do they care. The plight of the horses is even worse.”

Assiniboia Downs one alternative

Last week, representatives from Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg, Manitoba, arrived with information on their plans for next year.

Darren Dunn, the track’s general manager, said that although Assiniboia would welcome some Fort Erie horses, management there fully supports Ontario horsemen in their search for alternatives to keep Fort Erie operating in 2013 and beyond.

“We fully appreciate the situation here,” said Dunn, “and hope it can be resolved to the satisfaction of Fort Erie horsemen. The uncertainties are many and the future cloudy. Believe me when I tell you that our Winnipeg track has also had its share of struggles.

“If and when individual horsemen are forced to search for alternatives and are looking for stalls in a new environment, we think that Assiniboia Downs could be a consideration. We have a level of racing in our condition book somewhat equivalent to the book published at the Fort. Horses stabled here will fit nicely with the level of competition offered at the Downs.”

◗ Fort Erie has received permission to cancel the final Saturday of the meet, Oct. 27, in order to ensure a viable horse population for the last three days of the meet, Sunday, Oct. 28 through Tuesday, Oct. 30.