10/27/2012 1:28PM

Fort Erie: Track's future in doubt as meet concludes

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FORT ERIE, Ontario – The status of Fort Erie’s future as a racetrack still may be unknown when the final program of its 2012 meeting and 116th season is held Tuesday.

The Ontario racing industry anxiously has been awaiting the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food,  and Rural Affairs report, which will be sent out by Ted McMeekin, the organization’s minister.

That report is expected to include some form of financial arrangements to help the province’s racetracks work out viable business plans when the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation completes its phase-out of the current racetrack slots program on March 31, 2013.

Fort Erie, with no slots and no prospect of running a casino under the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission’s plans, is scheduled to close Dec. 31.

Meanwhile, the Fort Erie race office has put together a strong card for Tuesday, headed by the Tour de Fort.

The highlight of the Fort Erie meeting, since its inauguration in 1959, has been the Prince of Wales Stakes, the second leg of Canada’s Triple Crown, which also was created that year. But the Tour de Fort, despite being introduced much more recently, also has become one of the racetrack’s signature events, mainly due to its status as the longest Thoroughbred race run in Canada at two miles and 70 yards.

A total of 13 horses were entered in Tuesday’s Tour de Fort, with one on the also-eligible list.

Village Drive, a 5-year-old gelding who was a romping eight-length winner of a 1 3/4-mile starter allowance here Oct. 9, looms as the one to beat in his first Tour de Fort.

Trained by Tom Patton, Village Drive was making his first career start on the dirt and running his win streak to three after victories at Woodbine over 1 1/8 miles and 1 1/16 miles.

Spiritwood, a 9-year-old with 106 career starts under his belt, will be making his fifth appearance in the Tour de Fort, with his best finish having been a third last year.

Trained by Paula Loescher, Spirtwood was devastating in his last appearance at Fort Erie, winning a 1 3/4-mile starter allowance by 15 1/4 lengths Sept. 11.

In his most recent appearance, Spiritwood missed by a half-length as the runner-up in a 1 1/2-mile starter allowance at Mountaineer Racetrack.

Holy Schneikies, who had struggled at Woodbine this season, dropped in for $4,000 and was a convincing winner over a mile and 70 yards here Oct. 21.

Trained by Scott Fairlie, Holy Schneikes also is proven at marathon distances and would be no surprise in his first crack at the Tour de Fort.