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Sudbury Downs racing season cancelled, future of track in doubt

The news release said the offer from the province – reportedly $1 million a year for five years – wasn't enough for the track to break even.
A weekend meeting at Sudbury Downs could determine whether there will be racing at the racetrack this summer. File photo.
The news release said the offer from the province – reportedly $1 million a year for five years – wasn't enough for the track to break even. The track – owned by the MacIsaac family in Sudbury – said it offered to run the races without making a profit, as long as they didn't lose money. It also agreed to open its books to provincial auditors.

“We are not prepared to incur substantial operating losses for the next five years,” the release says. “Our offer has not been accepted by the provincial regulator.”

Despite being offered what has been described as the most generous funding arrangement in the province, the Downs says it's still not feasible because costs are much higher in Northern Ontario than in the south.

“As the only racetrack in Northern Ontario, Sudbury Downs is isolated from the bulk of the horse-racing industry in southern Ontario, and is truly a regional racetrack that must singularly provide for the needs of the northern industry,” the release said.

“Similarly, northern horsepeople do not have the same flexibility or options as their southern Ontario counterparts. A funding model for horse racing in the southern part of the province where there are 15 racetracks in relatively close proximity, is not necessarily appropriate for Northern Ontario.”

A modernization plan announced two years ago by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. ended a 20-year revenue-sharing agreement with tracks in the province that saw the OLG share revenue with horse racing in exchange for hosting slot machines. That left tracks in the lurch, since they relied on slots revenue to survive.

Kathleen Wynne changed course when she became premier in January 2013, and eventually set up a five-year, $500-million fund to help tracks stay open, with an eye on working out long-term arrangements.

Most tracks have signed on to the deal, with the exception of Sudbury. A tentative race card was established for this year, but the first date — May 24 — came and went without an agreement.

“Sudbury Downs sincerely regrets that, after 40 years of operating live horse racing, we must now terminate this part of our business,” the release said. “The loss of approximately 100 full-time equivalent jobs in the local horse-racing industry will have negative consequences for our local economy today and into the future.

“We thank all our dedicated horsepeople, racing employees and fans for their participation over the last 40 years.”

John Snobelen, who handles negotiations with Ontario tracks for the ORC, didn't return a call seeking comment Monday afternoon.

Darren MacDonald

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