Harness Horse Industry Fearful Of Take It Or Leave It Deal

The future of harness horse racing at small tracks in Southwest Ontario looks dim.

An agreement has been reached between the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) and Ontario Racing.

The complex, lengthy document was sprung on local tracks and the Ontario Harness Horse Association two weeks ago with a deadline to sign today.

Ontario Harness Horse Association General Manager Brian Tropea, says none of the small tracks like Leamington and Dresden were consulted and neither were the horse groups.

He says the deal would force the tracks to hand over power to an outside group after only a few years.

"The new deal if the racetracks sign up to it, there's certainty for three years and then after that it'll be a board called the 'Ontario Racing Management Board' that will make determinations on behalf of the industry about how to allocate that money that's going to be available for the next 15 or 16 years," says Tropea.

He says it's frustrating OHHA was never included in the negotiations, adding "the people that take the financial risk and put in the work to produce the product don't appear to be important in this decision as long as the racetracks are willing to sign off on the agreement, then it will go forward whether or not the horse people like it or not."

If the tracks sign this deal, Tropea says the future of local racing does not look good.

"Under this agreement I don't think there's any shot that it remains viable, I think the government owes it to the industry to the horse people to put a pause on this.  There's no reason to have a deadline of May 1st in order to have everybody agree to this."

The Lakeshore Horse Racing Association, that runs the Leamington Raceway has already said it won't approve the deal and is calling for negotiations with WEG.

Under the deal, all video of races will become the property of the Woodbine Group and not the horse-people.