What does it mean for the Ontario Horse Racing Industry?   


The announcement on Thursday of the merger of Ontario Racing and the Standardbred Alliance is encouraging news for the horse racing industry in this province on many levels.

First the facts of the merger (and you can check out the press release and related FAQ’s on the Ontario Racing website at ontarioracing.com

– the board of Ontario racing and Standardbred Alliance both voted to merge

-The combined entity will be an independent, not-for-profit industry organization that will represent all Ontario racetracks and horse racing industry associations in the province with one unified voice. There are 15 tracks (2 Thoroughbred, one Quarter Horse and 12 Standardbred) and some 20 horse racing related organizations.

– A not-for-profit will be created, be called Ontario Racing Management (ORM), utilizing shared resources from Woodbine Entertainment’s management team. This formula follows the successful business model of the Standardbred Alliance and allows racetracks to realize on multiple operational cost savings.

-The newly merged organization is committed to having a three-year business plan in place by April 1, 2018. The plan will include guarantees of purse payments for all member tracks, staking programs and race schedules, as well as establishing and administering common racetrack rules and policies.

One of the many advantages of the merged or is that it “puts horsepeople at the table,” said Sue Leslie, president of the Horsmeen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

The Standardbred Alliance, formed in April 2014, was developed “to provide a network of eight core harness tracks that worked together under the leadership of Toronto’s Woodbine Entertainment Group to co-ordinate schedules, manage stakes races and promote live racing at those tracks as a whole, as opposed to the old system where tracks directly competed with each other for patrons and often ran similar, but different betting systems.” (https://www.thespec.com/sports-story/5592986-standardbred-alliance-looking-good-out-of-the-gate/

Standardbred Alliance members represent a three-tier racing hierarchy, ‘Grass Roots’ (Clinton Raceway, Hanover Raceway), ‘Signature’ (Flamboro Downs, Georgian Downs, Grand River Raceway, The Raceway at Western Fair and Rideau Carleton Raceway) and ‘Premier’ (Mohawk Racetrack and Woodbine Racetrack).

Wagering on Standardbred racing has increased since the SA was formed.

Through a Woodbine Management arm, a subsidiary of Woodbine Entertainment Group, tracks will present business plans for race meetings with requested dates etc. The Woodbine Management arm will submit a business plan to the Ontario Racing board.

The board will discuss and vote on these submissions.

The key to this merger, of course, is unity. Getting the horsepeople and tracks together to work on sustaining a great industry that has had more than its share of troubles since the slots-at-racetracks partnership program was halted a few years ago.

“All industry entities need more money, every track and horsepeople associations have legitimate issues,” said Leslie. “But there’s only x amount of money. That money will have to be carefully shared and utilized.

“Some tracks have shareholders. They don’t have to give any lease money to purses. Woodbine Entertainment’s mandate requires revenue to go back into racing.”

This leads to one sticking point with some members of the three breeds to question why Woodbine Entertainment is the managing arm of the new merger.

“Woodbine Entertainment is the heart and soul of horse racing in this province,’ said Leslie. “WEG  is required to worry about Woodbine racing: field sizes, purses, etc. to keep it on the international level it is on. WEG’s business is to promote its racing, to ensure that racing is still seen as a viable, sport, entertainment and gaming activity. Fans still love horse racing.”

With ORM, Woodbine Entertainment now has an additional responsibility to manage on behalf of the industry. With this merger, Woodbine Entertainment is now accountable to someone, the Ontario Racing board.

And while not every association may not be happy when funds are allocated, this merger has to be viewed as putting Ontario horse racing on much firmer footing than it has been in months.

“We are a vast complicated industry with tons of opinions and no one is going to agree on every decision but this is a step forward from where we were. Nothing can be gained by publicly slamming individuals, tracks or groups. We all should remember the industry, the customers and the government  are watching.”


From Ontario racing – Frequently Asked Questions


Who decided that the Standardbred Racetrack Alliance would merge with OR?

The Boards of Directors of both the Standardbred Alliance and Ontario Racing voted to merge into one new, stronger, independent, not-for-profit industry association to represent all racetracks and racing industry associations across the province.

Why are OR and SA merging?
The horse racing industry’s current leadership model is fragmented. Various independently operated industry associations, coupled with the diverging interests of racetracks across the province, have hindered Ontario’s horse racing industry from channeling its full economic potential.

How will the new merged organization be different?
The new organization will include members of all racetracks and stakeholders in the industry (including Thoroughbred, Standardbred and Quarterhorse racing industry associations), and will therefore provide stronger, more effective and efficient industry leadership for the racing sector. This more united, stronger voice is needed to put the sector on a more sustainable path. As the industry association for horse racing, the new merged organization will work collaboratively with the OLG to negotiate the long-term funding agreement.

What will Ontario Racing Management (ORM) do?
ORM will create an annual business plan to provide for the effective administration of the industry and management of annual long-term funding. ORM will provide administration and funding management with respect to the HIP programs, manage a central race office, establish live race schedules and post times for all racetracks, with a mandate of maximizing pari-mutuel wagering for all members, manage an equine welfare program, and market and promote the horse racing industry as a vital part of Ontario’s agricultural, sports, entertainment and gaming sectors, including marketing and promotion of horse ownership.

How will industry interests and government funding be handled by the new organization?
The new merged association will utilize its strength, capacity and knowledge to provide industry oversight to create a viable and self-sufficient horse racing industry in Ontario. In so doing, it will create an infrastructure of racetracks, breeders, owners, trainers that strengthens the economics of the industry, as well as ensuring that the economic benefits of horse racing support investment and growth in rural Ontario. Among the many benefits are a more cost effective and streamlined approach to industry administration and governance, as well as a more collaborative and effective approach to decision making and strategic planning.

Why will Ontario Racing Management be a wholly owned subsidiary of Woodbine Entertainment Group?
In order to maintain efficiencies in operations and best use of the existing racetrack and supporting infrastructure, and in light of its broad-based industry knowledge and operational expertise, the new merged association will enter into a management agreement with Ontario Racing Management (ORM) such that the day to day business operations will be managed by ORM. ORM will benefit from utilizing shared services from WEG.

How will the creation of a new merged organization affect the proposed long-term funding agreement?
The new organization will work collaboratively with the OLG to negotiate the long-term funding agreement, which will then be distributed to Ontario Racing Management (ORM) to allocate under a fair and transparent formula through a business plan approved by the Board of Directors of the new merged entity. Once the long-term funding model is determined, the sector can move towards a more sustainable plan for its future.

How does the merger impact OR?
Ontario Racing (OR) will continue to carry out all of its current responsibilities, programs and services as using the management services of ORM. It is intended that the transfer payment for administration funding will continue to be paid to the new merged entity.

What about the racetracks that aren’t currently in the SA?
The new merged association’s membership will include every racetrack in the province. All member racetracks will benefit from more efficient administration and a streamlined approach to live race scheduling. This structure will allow tracks to conduct races at their respective racetracks independently, but with a common slate of procedures and protocols.

Who can I contact to get more information?

Contact Mike Chopowick, Acting Executive Director for Ontario Racing (mikechopowick@ontarioracing.com) or Hugh Mitchell, Chair of the Ontario Racing Board of Directors (hmitchell@westernfairdistrict.com).

(Ontario Racing)