04/15/2005 12:00AM

Less money leads to change in awards program

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The start of another racing season in Ontario has brought about some changes in the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society's Thoroughbred Improvement Program, considered one of the best awards programs for breeders across North America.

Although the program has less money in the kitty this year - a decrease to $10.1 million from $11.3 million because wagering and slots revenue was down in 2004 - the lucrative incentives encourage the breeding of Thoroughbreds in the province.

The most significant change is that the bonuses for any horse who sweeps the Canadian Triple Crown ($500,000) or the Canadian triple tiara ($350,000) have been discontinued.

"There's less money, so there had to be some changes," said CTHS (Ontario) president Glenn Sikura. "The feeling was that there is already enough money in those race purses. The premiums for the bonuses were very expensive, too."

There remains a breeders award of up to $50,000 for any breeder of a horse who sweeps either the Triple Crown or the tiara.

The CTHS has also altered its breeders award program to reward Ontario-bred horses more than horses bred in other parts of Canada. The breeders awards at Woodbine are no longer presented to strictly Canadian-breds but to Ontario-bred and Ontario-sired winners of races from the $20,000 claiming level and up. The CTHS defines an Ontario-bred as a "registered Canadian-bred foaled in Ontario." The conditions of 11 stakes races, including the Queenston Stakes, a major Queen's Plate prep race, have been changed from Canadian-bred to Ontario-bred.

"There was governmental pressure to do that," said Sikura. "About 99.9 percent of the monies in the program are generated by Ontarians in the industry. But our major fixtures are still for Canadian-breds."

An interesting innovation to the Thoroughbred Improvement Program, in conjunction with Fort Erie racetrack, is the Sales Credit Program, in which a $5,000 sales credit will be issued to an Ontario-bred winner of an $18,000 claiming race at Fort Erie, and a $1,500 sales credit to the owner of an Ontario-bred that wins a $12,000 claimer.

In addition, what used to be cash trainer's bonuses for winners of the six yearling sales stakes at Woodbine have been changed to $10,000 sales credits.

"The money is meant to go to the breeders," said Sikura. "If you give the trainers a sales credit, then they can spend it at the sale, and that would help the breeders."

One area of concern for the local horsemen and the CTHS is the future of the sales site following this year's yearling auction on Sept. 6, 9, and 10, and mixed sale, which will also be held at Woodbine, on Dec. 3-4.

The CTHS has an agreement with Woodbine Entertainment to move the sale off the Woodbine property after this year.

"The main reason we didn't want to have yearling sales here is because this is the only track in North America that conducts sales while trying to run a meet out of stalls used for racehorses," said David Willmot, chief executive officer of Woodbine Entertainment. "Our field size goes down dramatically in that period."

Sikura said the CTHS is still investigating the purchase of a property and negotiating with Woodbine and the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association to build its own stalls for the sales.