Sandra Roberts chose a symbolic morning to protest in front of Fraser Downs Racetrack and Casino. April 16 marked the beginning of a long break for harness racing and the start of the 2011 thoroughbred season at Hastings Racecourse.
Both tracks are owned by Great Canadian Gaming Corp., which says separate, six-month seasons are needed to avoid competing for customers.
About a dozen local horsemen and their supporters took part, hoping to bolster efforts to keep harness racing alive at Cloverdale’s landmark track by reinstating a longer season.
“We need it as a viable industry so we can support ourselves. It’s our livelihoods,” said Roberts, leading Daves Showboat, in front of the casino on 60 Avenue.
“We don’t accept their downsizing of the industry,” said Roberts, an owner-turned-activist who has also circulated a petition to demonstrate community support.
Horsemen aren’t asking for added race days next year – despite dropping from 107 race days in 2009/10 to 80 in 2010/11. But they’re united in pressing for a longer season with race days spread out, something they say will save thousands of direct and indirect jobs here and across the Fraser Valley.
According to a handout, when Great Canadian bought out Orangeville Racing, it took over the existing lease from the city of Surrey, which said races will be held “continuously and diligently” throughout the year.
Harness Racing B.C. says six months is too long for a break but too short for a viable season.
Owners and trainers like Brent Hill are forced to take summer jobs or pull up stakes altogether.
“Fraser Downs is unjust,” Hill said. “They’re saying they don’t want competition from the standardbreds for the thoroughbred horses, but at the same time they’re the ones who create the competition from online gambling, poker, sports betting, baseball, football, hockey.”
They’re asking Cloverdale residents to show their support by email to info@ fraserdowns.com.