The horsemen at Fraser Downs Racetrack and Casino are taking the show on the road – all the way to Desert Park in sunny Osoyoos.
This Saturday, in what may be a Canadian first, Standardbred horses will share a track with their thoroughbred cousins, introducing fans to the sport of harness racing in two exhibition races on Aug. 16.
Some of Cloverdale’s best-known stables are making the trek to the Okanagan, where the Desert Park Exhibition Society has worked to return thoroughbred racing to Osoyoos in the past two summers, after a 15-year absence, attracting thousands of spectators for two race days a season.
The harness races will take place in between the five thoroughbred races scheduled for the day, said Jackson Wittup, executive director of Harness Racing B.C., an association representing drivers, owners, breeders and other members of the harness racing industry.
Thoroughbred races start at 1:30 p.m. and the two exhibition (no betting) races get underway at 5 p.m.
There will be two, six-horse fields, featuring the Travis Tracey, Justin Curry, Dave Hudon, Allan Molloy, and Rick Lancaster stables, and a host others.
“We’re just trying to get our foot in the door and see if there’s other options in the summer time,” he said. “Let’s go showcase ourselves.”
The 2014 live racing season at Fraser Downs is currently on summer break, and resumes on Sept. 4-5, but the industry has pledged to look at ways to keep harness racing viable in the long-term.
In February, a deal was inked guaranteeing live racing at Fraser Downs for the next five years, but the seasons will shrink to six months in 2016, something horsemen have been lobbying against, in part because operating costs are year-round. The deal also extends the funding arrangement.
At the time, Wittup said the deal means there’s time to pursue other racing options during the summer.
A number of Alberta owners and trainers use the Desert Park facility as a training facility, the Osoyoos Times recently reported.
The return of horse racing in Osoyoos proved popular last year, drawing upwards of 4,000 spectators over two race days.
Wittup said Fraser Downs and owner Great Canadian Gaming Corp. have been very supportive of the Osoyoos road trip, offering equipment and staff to make it happen.