10/12/2013 9:11AM

Fort Erie: Horsemen, management disappointed over exclusion from funding


FORT ERIE, Ontario – Heading into the final two days of the 2013 meeting, Fort Erie was delivered a knockout blow by the Ontario government Friday.

As horsemen here awaited a decision on a 2014 season, hopefully before this meeting ends Tuesday, they received notice that Fort Erie would not be a beneficiary of a $400 million injection into the racing industry, mainly for purses.

The disappointment among horsemen and management was evident.

“We need time to assess this decision, and a meeting with the three-man transition panel is on the schedule for this week,” said Rick Cowan, Fort Erie’s chief operating officer.

That panel was set up by Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne last year to develop a plan for a sustainable future for the horse racing industry in Ontario. The plan calls for $80 million in funding for the industry annually over the next five years.

“Woodbine’s only competition, historic Fort Erie, was not deemed sustainable by the panel as a full-time racing venue,” the panel wrote in its report. “The 116-year-old border oval is being considered to host a ‘festival meet,’ with Thoroughbreds shipped in on race days only, instead of being stabled there full time. Long-term stabling is one reason Thoroughbred racing is so costly. Consolidating most, if not all, Thoroughbred racing at one track, Woodbine, represents the best business case for the industry and taxpayer.”

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s card will feature the Tour de Fort, a challenging affair that covers two miles and 70 yards and is highly anticipated by racing fans each year. Tuesday’s final card of the meet also marks Fan Appreciation Day, when Fort Erie management provides spectators with draws for prizes after each race.