10/20/2011 11:44AM

Fort Erie management continues pursuit of stabilization


FORT ERIE, Ontario – The Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium recently announced its proposed racing dates for 2012. Live racing would begin on May 6 and conclude on Oct 16.

The total of 69 racing days is a nine-day reduction from the 78-day schedule of 2011. The track will be open for training on April 8.

Jim Thibert, Fort Erie’s chief executive officer, also said that Quarter Horse racing would again be part of the overall season, with six or seven days to be added to the Thoroughbred schedule. The mixed cards held this year and in 2010 will continue, as will stand-alone Saturdays for Quarter Horse racing.

The consortium leased the track from Nordic Gaming in 2010, a three-year agreement that held open the option for both parties to continue the leasing arrangement.

“We discussed the reduction in racing days with all concerned parties, and the required change was the result of an extensive review of the last two seasons,” said Thibert.

“We believe that this proposal and our overall business plan will set the stage for future years as well. Our intention is to continue discussions with Nordic Gaming and the provincial government so as to provide a long-term solution.

“Ideally, we would like a five-year evergreen plan. That action would, following each successful year, add another year, thus maintaining a viable five-year program that would be the model for the foreseeable future.”

The horsemen at Fort Erie, up until two years ago, seldom knew what was happening from year to year. The operation of the track was in constant jeopardy, and there were occasions where winter had set in and no announcement for the coming season had been made. That uncertainty caused some horsemen to go elsewhere or to leave racing all together.

Since taking over operations, the consortium has provided the next season’s schedule before the current season ended.

“We fully recognize that horsemen need to plan ahead just like any other business does,” said Thibert. “It is essential that all parties work towards creating a stable five-year cycle, thus allowing horsemen to realize opportunities on both the breeding and racing side of the business.”

The purse structure currently in place at the Fort will be maintained for the 2012 season.

“We recognize that a viable purse account must be maintained through the 69-day season and we are committed to doing so,” said Thibert.

“Again, horsemen need to know from day one of the season where they stand from a revenue viewpoint. However, if positive results provide an opportunity to tack on an increase at any time during the upcoming season, then that will happen.”

In summarizing the steps taken to arrive at the decision for the 2012 schedule, Thibert said: “We held a meeting in Toronto earlier this month where all related interests discussed and resolved the many issues concerned.

“The final stamp of approval came earlier this week and now the request for next season dates will be formalized and forwarded for Commission approval.”