FORT ERIE – The Fort Erie Race Track has been dealt another blow.
A government-appointed panel charting the future course of the horse-racing industry in Ontario has concluded operations at the 116-year-old border oval are not sustainable.
“While Fort Erie remains a beautiful and historic site, the panel can find no path to sustainability for a full race calendar there,” the final report of the Horse Racing Industry Transition Panel reads in part.
“The panel suggests exploring the possibility of holding a festival meet at Fort Erie – with horses shipped in on race days – in conjunction with regional tourism initiatives.”
The final report was made public today by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne during a visit to Grand River Raceway, in Elora, Ont.
Wynne has pledged up to $400 million in funding to the horse-racing industry over the next five years.
That’s a fraction of what the the industry received in gaming revenues before the cancellation of the slots-at-racetracks program in March.
The Fort Erie Race Track had inked a one-year transition funding deal with the province earlier this year, which allowed the track to open and run the 2013 season.
The Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium, the not-for-profit group that operates the race track had applied for funding for future years and was awaiting word from the panel and the province.
Fort Erie Mayor Doug Martin said he was surprised and disappointed.
Martin said he had felt Fort Erie had made a strong business case and up until a few days ago he was reasonably confident the province and the panel would agree.
“We’re very disappointed,” said Martin, when reached for comment by Bullet News.
Martin questioned the timing of the release of the report on a Friday before a long weekend. He said he plkans to speak with track officials over the next few days to talk about what comes next. However, Martin says the town’s prepared to continue its fight to keep the track open.
In a statement accompanying the release of the transition panel report, Wynne had this to say: ”We know how important the horse racing industry is to communities all across Ontario. That’s why our government has worked with industry and community representatives to develop a five-year plan that will build on the great traditions of horse racing in this province and attract a new generation of fans to the sport.”
To watch a video of the press conference, click HERE.
Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak issued a statement Friday afternoon reacting to the panel’s report.
“What deeply saddens me is this is probably the final death knell for the Fort Erie Racetrack,” Hudak said.
“A town I grew up in. And Kathleen Wynne, aided by the NDP, are probably going to shut the doors on (the track).”
Cindy Forster, NDP MPP for Welland, criticized the government as well.
“Wynne talks about horse racing as a part of the history and culture of Ontario yet she’s willing to shut down one of the oldest and most celebrated tracks in the province. Horses have been racing at Fort Erie since 1897,” said Forster.
“With today’s announcement this government is ripping one of the jewels out of the Canadian Triple Crown. The Kentucky Derby wouldn’t be the Kentucky Derby if it wasn’t run at Churchill downs. Same goes for the Prince of Wales Stakes at the Fort Erie Race Track. The premier’s promising a ‘different kind of season’ for Fort Erie Race Track, alright. It’s no season at all.”
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