Members of the Standardbred racing community are so concerned about the future of their industry that a protest rally has been organized by Harness BC in front of Fraser Downs between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. today (Friday)
Diana Ball, a Standardbred breeder and former program co-ordinator for Greener Pastures, a Standardbred adoption program, is convinced that the racing industry is being deliberately sacrificed to maximize profits for the gambling industry.
She further maintains that the provincial Liberal government doesn’t seem to care.
“The Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, which operates the Fraser Downs racetrack and casino, appears to be slowly strangling the industry until everyone in it is forced to pack up and leave. They have now shortened the racing season to 71 race dates from around 130 a year. They have now shut down four of the six barns at Fraser Downs, saying it’s too expensive to keep the lights on. There’s nowhere for the horses to go,” said Diana.
She points out that the City of Surrey gave Great Canadian Casino a license to operate a casino at Fraser Downs on the condition it maintain “continuous” racing at the track.
“I think they wanted the gambling but not the horses.”
Shortening the racing season and shutting down barns at the track have made it almost impossible for most breeders and owners to make a living.
“Most people in the harness racing industry don’t have farms where they can board their horses for six months of the year. They can’t afford to keep them at boarding stables. So many horses are being shipped to the slaughterhouse. We can’t survive on a six-month season,” said Diana.
Diana has learned that Harness BC has sought legal advice to determine if the industry can seek help from the courts.
“But it is my understanding that the lease agreement is between the City of Surrey and the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation. Harness BC doesn’t have legal recourse because it is not a party to the agreement,” said Ball.
Instead, Great Canadian has told racing industry reps that they should move to Alberta for six months of the year.
“So we’re going to take our kids out of school, and pack up and move to another province for half a year?”
Diana Ball is a case in point. She and her husband sold their Aldergrove farm and moved to a 70-acre property in Falkland, B,C. two years ago so she could continue her breeding program and board race horses off-season.
Given the dismal future of the industry, she has stopped breeding and has only a handful of boarders, not enough to make ends meet.
“I refuse to bring horses into this world when I know damn well they have nowhere to go. Fortunately, my husband got a job in Kamloops. Otherwise I don’t know what we would do. There are no jobs around here,” she said.
She has written letters and called politicians, government officials and “everyone else who would listen” to ask that the racing industry be treated fairly.
“So many people’s jobs depend on it. Where are they going to go? Welfare? I’m well aware that time is not on our side. We can’t wait for a long, drawn-out court battle. We are facing the end of an industry,” said Diana.
Anne Patterson is a Langley writer and horse owner. Contact her at email@example.com.