SPORTS

Prince of Wales horse race gets reprieve with government funding agreement

03/27/2013 02:08 EDT | Updated 05/27/2013 05:12 EDT
Canadian thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown will again go through Fort Erie Racetrack.

The venerable oval will offer 50 days of racing in 2013 — down from roughly 80 last year — with opening day slated for May 26. And once again the facility's marquee event will be the Prince of Wales Stakes, the second jewel of Canada's Triple Crown.

"Absolutely," said James Thibert, chief executive officer of the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium, which operates the track. "The Prince of Wales is a race we'll run.''

The exact date for the race, which had a $500,000 purse last season, hasn't been finalized. Thibert said Fort Erie will be sending the Ontario Racing Commission a proposal for its 50 racing dates and expects to have the 2013 schedule finalized in a week to 10 days.

Traditionally, the Prince of Wales has been run about three weeks after the $1-million Queen's Plate. And with this year's Plate going July 7 at Toronto's Woodbine Racetrack, the expectation is the Prince of Wales event will go postward July 28.

On Tuesday, provincial premier Kathleen Wynne announced tentative transition funding agreements with three tracks — Fort Erie, Georgian Downs and Flamboro Downs — for the 2013 season. That ensured horse-racing dates at the three venues this year and the Prince of Wales being run again at Fort Erie for at least one more year.

The one-year deal is reportedly worth $5 million but financial details of the agreement with the Ontario government weren't released at a news conference Thursday at the Fort Erie track.

"We're racing for 2013," Thibert said. "We're looking forward to the next steps with the province to get integrated in the long-term racing through the strategy for integration into the gaming platform with the OLG (Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation)."

The 116-year-old Fort Erie track has hosted the Prince of Wales since 1929. But last year's racing season was expected to be the last at the historic oval after former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty axed a revenue-sharing agreement that gave racetracks a slice of $345 million in annual slot profits.

That prompted the Fort Erie track's board to vote in favour of closing the facility.

"My position is I was a lone wolf the last six years telling everyone the Slots at Racetracks program wasn't really a proper government program and it wasn't working for anybody," Thibert said. "It did force the industry to become an industry because it was just a collection of horse groups and tracks and there was no real comradery, no real common goals, no real sharing.

"I think in the last year we were forced to do that.''

Thibert said talks will continue with the Ontario government to try and solidify the Fort Erie track's future past 2013. But Thibert had nothing but praise for the efforts of the province's appointed Horse Racing Industry Transition panel consisting of former cabinet ministers Elmer Buchanan, John Snobelen and John Wilkinson.

"This panel really has a harmony about this and when you talk to them it's like they've seen the future," he said. "They've done so much work on racing and the racing industry and looked throughout North America and all around the world and it's absolutely encouraging when we're dealing with them.

"I am looking forward to a better Ontario racing industry, there's no doubt about it. We're moving in that direction.''

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