Horses reined in at Fraser Downs

Just 26 race days have so far been scheduled at Cloverdale's famed track 2014 as racing revenues plunge here and at Hastings Racecourse.

A Standardbred and trainer in a jog cart on the track at Fraser Downs last week.

When Sandra Roberts first started working at Fraser Downs 15 years ago, the harness racing community had an entirely different atmosphere.

“It used to be a very social place,” the longtime Cloverdale resident recalls.

“Now you’re doing the work yourself and you don’t really have the social time. And there’s so little money to be made because of the (fewer) race days, that it’s sort of like they’re turning us against each other,” says the Standardbred owner and trainer.

“Instead of being a big family, we’ve become more competitive against each other.”

Races used to take place almost year-round between the tracks in Surrey and on Vancouver Island. Horsemen could always pay all their bills – although no one was getting rich.

Fraser Downs hosted 99 race days in 2006, according to financial reports from the Great Canadian Gaming Corp., which operates the casino and racetrack.

The number fell to 74 by 2011.

And so far, just 26 race days have been scheduled for 2014.

“It’s impossible to make a living if we’ve only got four or three months of racing,” Roberts told The Reporter, adding the track used to be full of young people tending to the horses and cleaning the stables.

Now the horsemen can no longer afford to hire any help.

“I won’t survive (another year),” she said.

Chuck Keeling, Great Canadian executive director of stakeholder relations, said although the racing schedule only stretches until April, it’s still possible more races could be added later on this year.

He wouldn’t comment on the likelihood of that happening, but said he’s hopeful the number of 2014 race days will be comparable to those of the last few years.

Racetrack revenues at Fraser Downs and Hastings declined 60 per cent in the first nine months of 2013 ($7.9 million) compared to the same period in 2008 ($19.6 million), according to Great Canadian financial reports.

“This decrease is primarily due to the ongoing industry-wide decline in horse race wagering,” one report said.

The financial statements did not separate revenue between Fraser Downs and Hastings racetracks.

Keeling said these figures reflect the core challenges plaguing an industry that’s been in decline for decades.

But he added the B.C. Horse Racing Industry Management committee – which includes representatives from Great Canadian Gaming, Harness Racing B.C. and the thoroughbred sector – is working on a long-term sustainability plan to provide the industry with more certainty going forward.

“Could this be a sunset industry? (It’s) possible, but there’s precedent – like poker – for it not to be,” Keeling said.

He pointed out interest in the well-known card game was waning dramatically a few decades back. But poker had a resurgence about 10 or 15 years ago as TV shows and Internet gambling made the game popular once again.

Keeling said he hopes the horse-racing industry will find a similar resurgence, but it’s still in the hands of the B.C. Horse Racing Industry Management committee.

Follow the Cloverdale Reporter on Twitter and Facebook. View our print edition online.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

It’s election day in B.C. (Black Press files)
It’s Election Day in B.C.: Here’s what you need to know to vote

B.C.’s snap election has already broken records for advance voter turnout, mail-in ballots

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

Sven Spichiger, Washington State Department of Agriculture managing entomologist, displays a canister of Asian giant hornets vacuumed from a nest in a tree behind him Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. Scientists in Washington state discovered the first nest earlier in the week of so-called murder hornets in the United States and worked to wipe it out Saturday morning to protect native honeybees. Workers with the state Agriculture Department spent weeks searching, trapping and using dental floss to tie tracking devices to Asian giant hornets, which can deliver painful stings to people and spit venom but are the biggest threat to honeybees that farmers depend on to pollinate crops. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Crews vacuum ‘murder hornets’ out of Washington nest, first-ever in U.S.

The nest found in the city of Blaine near the Canadian border is about the size of a basketball

Upgrades underway at the Sunnyside Reservoir, adjacent to Sunnyside Acres Urban Forest, raised concerns among some residents Tuesday (Oct. 20), however, stewards of the park say everything went off without a hitch. (Tracy Holmes photo)
‘No issue’ with South Surrey reservoir drainage, despite trail user concerns: urban forest steward

Forest visitor taken aback by ‘unprecedented flooding’ of trails

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

BC Hydro map showing where power has been knocked out is dotted with over a dozen outages. (BC Hydro map screenshot)
Thousands without power in Lower Mainland on election day

One outage in Langley and Surrey is affecting over 4,000 customers

file
One dead after fiery crash near Agassiz

Agassiz RCMP report a 56-year-old man died Friday night

The possibility of the Canadian Premier League expanding to the Fraser Valley has been floated online. (Facebook photo)
Canadian Premier League possibly eyeing Fraser Valley expansion

Soccer league looking to add ninth team to the mix, B.C. markets potentially rumoured

Most Read