Written by: Keith McCalmont
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An external review of the Manitoba horse racing industry focused on identifying new opportunities and sustainability could offer a chance at newfound growth.

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“Horse racing is a well-established industry in Manitoba that provides province-wide economic benefit and entertainment opportunities,” said Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler in a provincial release. “While the industry has faced financial challenges, our government wants to find a sustainable future for horse racing in Manitoba. It is our hope that this external review will reveal new opportunities for growth and long-term sustainability.”

According to the release, a full operational review will include stakeholders, potential synergies and other investors, alternative models, economic impacts, governance models, risk analysis and a detailed recommendation for a financially sustainable model.

“Our expectation is that the study will continue to clearly show that economic contributions to the provincial economy from racing are very significant,” offered Darren Dunn, CEO of Assiniboia Downs. “As an agri-business, major employer and an industry that attracts a large amount of tourist and non-resident horsemen dollars to Manitoba, our ability to create increased tax revenue for the province will only be enhanced with new strategic opportunities for growth.”

In 2008, PricewaterhouseCoopers conducted an economic assessment of the local horse racing industry that found $28 million per year was spent on activities and operations associated with standardbred and thoroughbred horse racing in Manitoba, as well as 500 full-time positions.

In 2014, the Government of Manitoba and the Manitoba Jockey Club (MJC) reached an agreement to continue live horse racing at Assiniboia Downs. The agreement, which acknowledged that the MJC had entered into a partnership with Peguis First Nation, was to enhance revenue streams at Assiniboia Downs.

The benefits of this agreement included a 12-year VLT site holder agreement between the MJC and Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corporation which provided for 140 machines at Assiniboia Downs.
Annual grants for the first decade of the agreement included $5.40 million (Years 1-4), $5.25 million (Years 5 and 6), $5 million (Years 7 and 8), $4 million (Year 9) and $3 million (Year 10). In years 11 and 12, the grants would be replaced by revenue generated through VLT commissions and contributions alone under a VLT site holder agreement.

Dunn believes there is potential for positive growth from the upcoming review which will be conducted following a public tender process, which application deadline closes on March 27.

“We believe that the primary opportunity for growth lies in developing a more integrated relationship, through gaming products and sponsorship, with the provincial crown corporation, Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries,” said Dunn.

The first condition book for the 2018 Assiniboia Downs meet is already available online with the Winnipeg track open for live racing on Mother’s Day, May 13 to kick off a 50-date meet which concludes on September 9.

“Our expectations for the 2018 live thoroughbred season are for improved per race field sizes to offer our fans, based on the preliminary indications of interest and early stall applications we have received from horsemen,” said Dunn.

A lucrative stakes schedule offers up 32 added-money events for the upcoming meet which will provide quality races for horsepeople and bettors alike to consider.

“Our increased ‘partner’ wagering network over the last number of years sets the table for increased wagering opportunities and payoffs,” said Dunn. “This race meet will also feature the 70th running of the Manitoba Derby. We intend to showcase the history of this important race as a theme throughout the season.”

Last season, the historic $75,000 Manitoba Derby was captured by Plentiful who was piloted by Tyrone Nelson for trainer and co-owner Murray Duncan.