Rally turns into a celebration for harness race supporters

A protest in downtown Cloverdale unexpectedly turned into a celebration last Friday, as members of the harness racing industry and their supporters heard the news they’d been pressing for – a longer racing season will be restored in 2012.

Thumbs up: Freda and David Woolley

A protest in downtown Cloverdale unexpectedly turned into a celebration last Friday, as members of the harness racing industry and their supporters heard the news they’d been pressing for – a longer racing season will be restored in 2012.

Harness Racing B.C. organized the rally outside Fraser Downs in a bid to step up pressure on the company that owns the racetrack and casino.

Despite pleas from the harness racing industry, Great Canadian Gaming Corp. has so far stood firm behind the six-month racing season in effect this year.

But it appears lobbying efforts that included recent meetings with B.C. cabinet minister Shirley Bond and other government officials are having an impact.

“We have achieved the 10 month, two-days a week season,” Harness Racing B.C. CEO Doug McCallum said, adding details are still being worked out.

The former Surrey mayor received word shortly before the rally.

He was able to deliver the news in person to about 70 protesters and their supporters. Many carried signs and wore T-shirts pledging support for harness racing. Some owners brought along their race horses.

This week in Victoria, McCallum met with Bond, minister of public safety and solicitor general, B.C. Horse Racing Industry Management Committee chair Derek Sturko, and B.C. Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch officials.

“Negotiations on the details are going very well,” he said.

Harness Racing B.C. represents standardbred breeders, owners, trainers and drivers. Breeders are already renewing breeding programs, thanks to the news, he said.

The industry also includes related businesses and services, from feed stores to veterinarians and farriers.

“What the government’s done in allowing us to race a little more, it’s encouraging an agricultural industry to keep jobs, first of all, and to create new jobs and build the industry.”

According to those who make a living along the backstretch at Fraser Downs, the split, six-month racing season has been a disaster, forcing some breeders to halt breeding programs and owners to pull up stakes.

The industry tends to be a family affair, running through third and fourth generations. Breeders and owners like Brent Currie left Cloverdale for Ontario when the harness racing season at Fraser Downs ended, splitting up his family, McCallum said.Follow the Cloverdale Reporter on Twitter and Facebook. View our print edition online.