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That is the dilemma Ontario’s racehorse breeders face as the annual yearling sales arrive, starting with Monday’s opening session of the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society’s yearling auctions out at Woodbine.
Since the McGuinty government bulled ahead and stupidly declared the profitable (especially for the province) slots-at-racetrack program dead as of next March 31, horse racing lives in extreme peril. Those first shots were fired several months ago; we’ll see how much blood is spilled starting with this sale, and at subsequent standardbred sales at Flamboro Downs Sept. 15-16 and in London Oct. 13-14.
How valuable are these young horses when there won’t be nearly as much, if any, Ontario racing in a year or three?
“Everyone is holding their breath and don’t know what to think,” said CTHS sales chair Yvonne Schwabe, herself a commercial breeder. “I have three of my own horses in this sale. We (breeders) all depend on this sale. We’re all nervous about what the horses will bring.”
“We had a growing industry, with so many positive signs. We were getting newer and better stallions into the province. In the 14 years this program has been in existence, our quality (of horses bred) has gotten progressively better,” Sikura said. “How does a breeder react in sixth months to this kind of announcement? For many (breeders), this will be their one paycheque for the year.”
A panel of three former Cabinet ministers allegedly reviewed the decision and, unsurprisingly, a week ago came out in support while acknowledging racing and breeding were useful industries — employing 30,000 people directly and another 30,000 indirectly — worth saving. That panel is supposed to provide more recommendations by the end of September, but as Schwabe noted, “we needed a positive message before the sale. The panel’s statement was very disappointing and discouraging.’’
Buyers and sellers will be watching closely to see how many U.S. buyers show up. Many are so-called pinhookers, snatching promising individuals to flip at next spring’s sales of 2-year-olds in training. Others will be opportunists who recognize bargains when they see them.
Meanwhile, out at Mohawk, the harness folks are gearing for a sensational Saturday, with the $ 1 million Metro Pace featuring a couple of the many standouts from the first stallion crop of legendary pacer Somebeachsomewhere. Captaintreacherous and Apprentice Hanover look as good as any entering the richest baby race of them all. In addition, the venerable Canadian Pacing Derby also will be contested for $ 787.000 with Betterthancheddar the one to beat.
It’s difficult but not impossible to imagine these enormous races as the last of their kind; if the continuing existence of the Queen’s Plate is in jeopardy, as Woodbine boss Nick Eaves has already threatened, then anything could go. It might all depend on what kind of deal individual tracks can cut with the government.
None of this makes sense, surely. Who benefits from killing off horse racing? Would it be the incoming Americans who will run Toronto’s casino, if and when it arrives, plus those running legal bingo halls? (Note that many bingo licences have been bought recently by Larry Tanenbaum and Larry wouldn’t buy them if they weren’t worth something.) If racetracks shut down, where will slots machines go? Where will the government find the $ 1 billion that the slots-at-racetrack program churns? So many good questions — and so many more arriving once the horse sales start.