After a lot of uncertainty over the past few months, harness racing is set to return in September.
A press release issued Aug. 6 noted the B.C. Government has agreed to provide both Harness Racing BC (HRBC) and the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association of BC (HBPA) with a one-time $3 million grant.
This comes a few months after the B.C. Government denied race funding March 31, which resulted in the spring race season at Fraser Downs being suspended in mid-April and the future of horse racing in B.C. being cast into doubt. In the process, more than 130 workers were out of work at Fraser Downs.
Harness racing had fallen into financial difficulty as casinos had been closed since March of 2020. Horse racing in B.C., both standardbred and thoroughbred, relies on a sliver of gaming revenue earned from slot machines. With casinos closed, horse racing’s funding rivulet had evaporated.
“It’s money we use to sustain the industry, run races, hire workers, pay the purses, maintain the track, stable horses, and fund a host of agricultural support programs for breeding, rearing and training,” Nigel Holmes, executive director of Harness Racing BC, told the Cloverdale Reporter at the time.
In the Aug. 6 release, the HRBC and the HBPA said they welcomed the government’s announcement.
“This is the best possible news for horse racing overall,” Kelly MacMillan, president of HRBC, said in the release.
“Breeders, owners, trainers, and all the backstretch workers whose jobs were impacted by COVID have been anxiously awaiting some good news,” MacMillan added. “The BC government and all the MLAs we talked to listened, and they came through big time.”
Mike Farnworth, Minister for Public Safety, wrote to both the HRBC and HBPA to let them know the government was finally giving money to the two groups and that the $3 million grant would be evenly divided amongst them to “minimize the employment impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on horse racing workers.”
“Now we can look forward to extending the current season for at least another month and will be able to turn our attention to working on a full season in 2022,” David Milburn, president of the HBPA, said in the release.
“We’re excited to start welcoming back thousands of horse racing fans from across BC who come out every year to enjoy the races,” Milburn added. “The future of horse racing in British Columbia looks much better after this announcement.”
Holmes told the Reporter the announcement was welcome news.
“The funding gives us a kickstart,” said Holmes. “We’re excited about it. It’s reassuring when the government gives you that support. And we’re extremely happy that it came in the form of a grant.”
Holmes said harness racing will likely resume at Fraser Downs as early as the third week of September and run until the end of the year, which will basically follow harness racing’s regular fall schedule.
He said the fall race calendar for Fraser Downs will likely be finalized within the the next 10 days or so. Holmes noted HRBC has to coordinate a few things with Great Canadian Gaming, but he doesn’t anticipate any hiccups in that process.
“We want to get (the race schedule) out as soon as possible. We don’t want to keep the horsemen waiting,” Holmes explained. “They’ve had enough anxiety within the group and enough uncertainty over the past year. We don’t want to extend that any further than we have to.
“Hopefully the horses are ready to go.”