10/24/2014 2:27PM

Hastings horsemen hope to avoid horse-shortage issues next year


VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The 2014 Hastings meet ends Sunday, and the shortage of horses made it difficult for departing racing secretary Stuart Slagle to put together decent cards all year. Slagle, who did an admirable job under the circumstances, is moving on to become the racing secretary at Woodbine.

The average number of starters per race dropped to 6.80 from 7.12 in 2013. Despite that decline, handle remained steady, according to Hastings general manager Darren MacDonald.

“Considering everything, I am pretty happy with how the season went,” said MacDonald. “Our total handle is going to be down because we ran fewer days, but our daily average and per-race average are up slightly.”

Part of the reason for the horse shortage is that last winter, horsemen didn’t know when – or if – the meet was going to start. A dispute over how revenue from wagering and slot machines was going to be split between the groups representing the Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, and Hastings’s parent company, Great Canadian Gaming Corp., caused the uncertainty.

The dates already have been announced for next year, and MacDonald is hopeful that with the schedule in place, the horse population will increase. The 54-day meet in 2015 begins on the last Saturday in April and concludes on the last Sunday in October. The track will open for training Feb. 5.

“I think we’re miles ahead of last year having everything in place,” said MacDonald.

MacDonald points to the recently announced Ship N Win program as another positive.

“The horsemen’s group really worked hard on this, and they came up with an excellent plan,” said MacDonald. “They are also doing a great job at getting the word out.”

Horses shipping to Hastings next year will receive a $500 bonus when they make their first start, plus another $500 after their second race. Another $2,000 bonus will be added when they make their third start. Following their third race, they also will receive a 30 percent bonus on any money earned in their first start if they finished in the top three.

The incentive plan was developed by the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association of British Columbia, the B.C. Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, and the local division of the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society.

“I think it is the best ship-and-win program in North America,” said HBPA president and trainer David Milburn.

Milburn said he plans to increase his stable from four horses to about 15 next year.

“I bought four horses at the CTHS sale, and I will be claiming horses over the winter to bring here,” he said. “It’s time to step up to the plate and start turning things around here.”