On April 1, Ontario Racing (OR) took control of the province’s thoroughbred breeding awards programs from the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society (CTHS), but John Hayes, the chair of OR, wants people to know breeders are being consulted about those programs and he is hopeful the CTHS will take a seat at the OR board table.

“We still have a board seat open for the CTHS and they have been attending the HIP committee meetings representing the breeders,” said John Hayes. “It’s my firm hope that they take their board seat and have their vote in the future of Ontario Racing. Ontario Racing represents all facets of racing from breeders to horsepeople to racetracks.”

Hayes said beginning in April, OR met with committees representing thoroughbreds, standardbreds and quarter horses to discuss their proposals for how to best spend $10 million, total, in breeding awards money from the province.

“What I’m trying to do is talk to each committee that we have for the breeds, listen to what their proposals would be and then we’ll come back as an executive committee, make a couple of recommendations and then the Ontario Racing board will vote on distribution of those monies,” Hayes said.

“We’re here to help and we absolutely need their input and support to make their business successful. I think it’s critical as we go into the future that the thoroughbred breeders… just need some optimism as far as the future of racing.”

The CTHS Ontario board has been upset that OR has taken control of breeding programs long operated by the CTHS. Under legal advice, the CTHS has not signed the OR Membership Agreement that would grant it a seat at the OR board table, saying it was concerned there was no reference to breeders or the needs of thoroughbred breeders in the statement of purpose. In early April, the CTHS filed an application with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice against Ontario Racing, Ontario Racing Management (a subsidiary of the Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG)), the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) and WEG.

“The sole purpose of this court challenge is to protect the interests of the thoroughbred breeders of Ontario in respect of a funding program, as they have for over 40 years in an exemplary fashion, as well as to ensure the continued and necessary influence, guidance and expertise of the Ontario Division,” the CTHS Ontario division said in a release.

Beyond taking input from the three breed committees, Hayes said thoroughbred breeders should know the standardbred and quarter horse industries have long had their programs successfully run by the government, not breeders, and the standardbred program, in particular, is a world leader under that model.

“I would hold the success of the Ontario Sires Stakes for standardbreds up to anybody as an example of cooperation between all facets of racing to produce a better product and sustainable product into the future,” Hayes said.

He said the best way for the CTHS to have even more input on decisions that impact breeders is to take a seat at the OR board table, particularly since the government increased the total awards for all three breeds to $10 million annually.

Hayes said there are a number of positive signs that point to industry sustainability, including a long-term funding deal with the province and increased purses for both thoroughbreds and standardbreds at WEG.

“Whether it’s going to be higher purses — although not as high as some people would like… or enhanced breeder awards, the value of yearlings should increase, the quality of yearlings should increase and once you get the breeding up and running, your horse supply issues will resolve over time,” Hayes said. “So, let’s move forward. In the cycle of horse racing, the breeders are the first people involved in the business. Then it’s the owners seeing there is some stability through the government funding and horsepeople agreements with WEG, especially. Then with the racetracks having bigger fields, higher-quality fields and working on promoting betting into the future, the public will see a united industry that’s focused on getting better.”

In the meantime, Hayes said OR has been regularly lobbying the provincial government on behalf of the industry and the government is responding favourably to the industry, mostly, speaking with one voice.

“We’ve been down to Queen’s Park a number of times with a lot more to go. The first thing is, we’re grateful we’ve received the government’s support for horse racing in the province in the face of some of the other issues as far as funding. Everybody wants more, whether it’s roads, schools, the medical system, but as far as the horse industry is concerned we’ve demonstrated how many individuals are actually employed in the horse racing business. We’ve shown what the dollar impact of that is down the road and I think made the point that it is a benefit-plus business to the province. I think there’s a little more concern from some of the non-GTA areas of the province that horse racing survive, because of the impact horse racing has for their particular jurisdiction,” Hayes said.

“I would call it education. Once we’ve had a chance to get in to talk to MPPs, the Ministry of Finance, etcetera, they understand where we’re coming from and, in my opinion, in their view it makes sense that we understand the industry has issues and, without somebody like Ontario Racing representing the whole industry, it would be doomed to failure, I think.”

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