08/02/2013 12:35PM

Fort Erie cancels all Mondays, extends meet


FORT ERIE, Ontario – Fort Erie was to have a 50-day race meet in 2013, with racing scheduled for Sundays and Tuesdays, and Mondays to be added starting June 17. But a shortage of horses prompted Fort Erie to cancel Monday racing for July and it has received permission from the Ontario Racing Commission to cancel Monday cards for the rest of the meet, which has been extended from Oct. 8 to Oct. 15.

With the loss of slot machines and their revenue last year, the Fort Erie meet was in jeopardy of being canceled altogether this year. But the Ontario government came through with funds for the racetrack in the spring, allowing the meet to be held. However, the announcement that the funding would be made came very late, with many horsemen having decided to take their horses elsewhere by then.

“Filling races has been a challenge for our race staff with a horse population of 360 on track compared to 635 last year,” said Jim Thibert, the chief executive officer for track operations. “Ship-ins from Woodbine remain strong and we believe that we can fill our races with our adjusted plan of Sunday and Tuesday racing.”

The most recent extension of the meet – it had previously been extended from Sept. 24 to Oct. 8 – plus a possible increase of races from 8 to 10 per card would bring Fort Erie close to 400 races, which was the original target.

“If we are successful in having 10 races per day until the end of the meet on Oct. 15, then we would have booked 384 races,” Thibert said. “If the number of horses available for racing is such that we can add further races to a card, that is from 10 races to 11 or 12 races, then we can further close that 16-race gap.”

Prince of Wales Day business strong

One week ago, the conversations surrounding the move of the Prince of Wales Stakes, the second jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown, from a Sunday afternoon to a Tuesday evening was the order of the day throughout the racing community.

Some said that the move would be a disaster and that many would shy away from attending the Tuesday card if the prestigious $500,000 race took place in the evening. Others promoted the Tuesday date and time slot, noting that a late afternoon start time would allow more people to come to the races or be able wager through a simulcast outlet.

The move to Tuesday turned out to be the right call, as the public came out in droves for the July 30 race and boosted the handle. Handle was up race after race to top out at $1,322,764 for the nine-race card, compared with $1,158,497 for an 11-race card last year. The estimated attendance was more than 10,000.

The Tuesday evening card began at 4:15 p.m and by 5 p.m both parking lots on the site were full and a secondary lot was filling up.

“It is wonderful to see so many people out to the races,” said Rick Cowan, Fort Erie’s chief operations officer, on Prince of Wales Day. “I could not be more pleased and satisfied with the decision to place the Prince of Wales on this evening’s card. We had made a list of the pros and cons for and against the move, and even though our confidence factor was high for the shift from Sunday to Tuesday, there was still that element of doubt.”

Cowan did not mention that the final decision had been put in his lap, and a week earlier he had stood tall and said: “I feel that the handle will be increased by a sizable amount if we were to select Tuesday and sorely diminished if Sunday is preferred.”