Owners ready to get back to racing 'out the door' in Dresden, Ont.
With the rising price of gasoline and diesel, local harness horse racers are excited to begin another race season at home.
“We can take a break from trucking,” said Darell Vleeming, owner of three horses set to race Monday. “It's easier on the horses too you know, hauling all over the place. It's stressful on the horse.”
The Chatham-Kent owner has been a harness horse racer for 25 years. He says the industry has changed a lot.
“Mostly the expenses,” he said.
“The price of gas and diesel has gone up so much,” said track announcer Gary Patterson, who believes the added expense has increased the pressure to win a race.
“Before you get a third prize, you'd be like ‘Okay, we've got some money, we paid for a day.’ But now, a third place, fourth place finish isn't going to pay your way to the racetrack if you have to drive, let's say, from Windsor to London,” said Patterson.
Increased expense isn’t the only reason their industry is struggling.
Patterson and Vleeming say the industry is still trying to rebound from the cancellation of the Slots at Racetracks Program which was cancelled by the Liberal government in 2012.
“In 2011, we had 11,000 racehorses in Ontario,” said Patterson. “Now have about 4,000 racehorses in Ontario.”
Patterson and Vleeming say many breeders and owners either got out of the industry entirely, or left Ontario to continue racing elsewhere.
Without a steady stream of income, Patterson says racetracks have been struggling to continue to offer lucrative purses to entice racers.
“It's starting off a little bit slow with only seven horses on our holiday Monday racing card, but that will pick up,” said Patterson.
When larger racetracks close down for the season, Patterson believes racers will continue their seasons at smaller tracks, like Dresden.
He says they’re rolling out new ideas this summer, like theme days and a special tour for female drivers.
“We have our Ontario Women’s Drivers Championship, which is going to be happening in July. 10 of the top women drivers in Ontario will be competing,” said Patterson.
The season begins May 23 at 1 p.m. for seven races. Fans are encouraged to participate in “Derby Hat Day”.
“Fans in harness racing — it costs them nothing,” said Patterson who adds fans can choose whether or not to place a bet on each race.
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