03/28/2013 3:41PM

Fort Erie to hold 50-day meet in 2013; opener set for May 26


FORT ERIE, Ontario – Fort Erie Race Track will conduct a 50-day meeting this season, beginning May 26.

The official announcement came at a press conference Thursday morning at the border oval. The racetrack had been scheduled to close last Dec. 31 – after slot machines were removed last April – but continued to offer simulcast wagering in 2013.

On Tuesday, the Ontario government announced that Fort Erie would receive transitional funding that will allow the track to continue operations this year. The amount and nature of that funding has not yet been revealed.

A 50-day season would give Fort Erie the minimum number of days required. The meet still requires approval from the Ontario Racing Commission. Additional days may be added, possibly with Quarter Horse racing, once the Thoroughbred application is finalized.

The schedule will run to Sept.  24, with Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday racing each week. One of the two weekdays will have a proposed 4:15 p.m. post time for twilight racing, and the other two days will be scheduled for 1:05  p.m.

Spring racing will begin with eight races a day, and depending on other factors could increase as the meet progresses. The purse structure will remain the same as that offered in 2012 and average $11,000 per race. The stakes schedule, including the Prince of Wales Stakes, will be forthcoming.

Thursday’s press conference was chaired by Jim Thibert, chief executive officer of the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium, and included the three-person Ontario racing transition panel set up last fall by the provincial government to study the future of the Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing industries in Ontario.

Also present was Dennis Mills, president of the website RacingFuture.com, an Ontario horse racing advocacy group. Mills spoke to the conference on the viability of expanding the Ontario racing market to areas outside of Canada and the United States. He also noted that the 10,000 Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. outlets could add a racing-oriented lottery-type feature.

The transition panel spoke about the challenges it faced with so many different programs in place at various Standardbred tracks. It suggested that the best of each program should be utilized to produce an optimal format for all tracks.

The panel recognized that Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne recently stated that horse racing and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. must amalgamate, and that requirement was a major task still to be resolved.

“I am very pleased to see that another season is in the works, and it has to be appreciated that this track was forced to work with the government without the slots program to back it up,” said Kim Craitor, a member of provincial parliament for the Niagara region and a major supporter of track. “That, in itself, was an obstacle which took many hours of work to overcome.”