The Manitoba Jockey Club has been granted a racing licence for Assiniboia Downs by the Manitoba Horse Racing Commission for 2014.

That means the Downs can continue simulcasting and making preparations for the live thoroughbred horse racing meet that opens May 4. The commission had granted the Jockey Club a temporary licence, which was due to expire Friday.

“Relieved and enthusiastic about 2014,” Downs CEO Darren Dunn responded Thursday, when asked about the decision. “It’s a win for Manitoba overall.”
The commission made the decision after an emergency meeting with Jockey Club officials Wednesday night.

In December, the commission had decided to suspend consideration for the 2014 licence when it discovered a pending joint partnership agreement between Peguis First Nation and the MJC, a non-profit organization that runs the Downs, involving a 25-year, $15-million interest-free mortgage. But it relented and granted the temporary one.

“We weren’t pointing any fingers, but we were concerned the mortgage could be used as a device to transfer land without our approval,” said commission chair Tom Goodman. “They (MJC) gave us the formal understanding that there is nothing in the agreement about the transfer of land.

“We’re satisfied that there was no sinister intent.”

The decision came after a presiding judge dismissed the Jockey Club’s demand to compel the issuance of the licence Tuesday. He also ruled the MHRC is entitled to request a copy of the joint venture agreement between the MJC and Peguis.

Goodman said the MHRC does not necessarily need a copy, it just wants to look at it. However, that agreement is subject to a confidentiality clause and Peguis must waive that clause first. The MJC plans to ask Peguis if it is willing to do so.

“The bottom line is, the confidentiality agreement is something we intend to respect,” Dunn said. “We’ll have to talk to Peguis and hope to be able to satisfy everyone.”
The Jockey Club had already started recruiting horsemen for this summer’s meet.

Goodman also announced a joint MJC/MHRC liaison committee has been struck to deal with issues before differences reach such crisis proportions in the future.