The Ontario Standardbred Alliance (Alliance) today expressed its strong support for the Horse Racing Partnership Plan announced by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF).
The five year plan provides not only more total race days annually than last year but also provides a firm base of activity with established purse levels, uniform race classes, a consistent year round schedule at the Signature level, and increased racing opportunities at the Premier tracks.
The announcement heralds an unprecedented agreement among eight Ontario racetracks in the formation of the Standardbred Alliance. The members represent a three-tier racing hierarchy, ‘Grass Roots' (Clinton, Hanover), ‘Signature' (Flamboro, Georgian, Grand River and Western Fair) and ‘Premier' (Mohawk and Woodbine).
The Alliance, which will be led by Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG), was created to deliver standardbred racing and wagering opportunities with a focus on ease-of-access for existing customers, and consistent and coordinated racing opportunities with guaranteed purses for its participants. In addition, the Alliance will deliver more efficient racetrack operations through the consolidation of services and purchasing and a coordinated approach to attracting new customers to Ontario standardbred racing.
Also, to ensure a consistent customer-focused approach to improving the distribution, value and appeal of horse racing across the province, WEG has been named the single operator of Teletheatres and Account Wagering in Ontario. The consolidation of all off-track operations under WEG's Champions and HorsePlayer Interactive brands will allow for a consistent customer experience with the integration of a province-wide rewards program for horseplayers.
The Standardbred Alliance has worked closely with government, regulators and industry participants to develop this plan for the industry, which places a significant and collective focus on a stable outlook for race days, purses and operations.
"We're very pleased with the spirit of cooperation among the Alliance tracks during the development of this historic plan,” said Hugh Mitchell, Chief Executive Officer at Western Fair. "In co-ordinating racing calendars and guaranteeing purses, this plan provides the certainty the industry requires during this time of transition. The Alliance tracks believe this certainty will help to re-establish an adequate horse supply over the five-year period and will place the industry on a sound footing for long-term sustainability.”
The province has committed $500-million over the next five years for the Ontario horse racing industry. The portion of the funding provided to the Alliance will be used entirely to fund purses at those tracks. Combined with pari-mutuel revenue and support by WEG's purse guarantee at the Alliance venues, it will provide consistent purse levels during this transitional period.
For Alliance tracks and horsepeople, the result is a balanced, year-round schedule of at least six days of Signature racing per week, four or five days of year round Premier racing and, during the summer, two days per week of Grass Roots racing. In total, the Alliance tracks will stage 598 race days in 2014/2015, 76 more than in 2013/2014.
"WEG and the Alliance tracks are confident that this new five year plan will help to ensure a sustainable horse racing and breeding industry over that near term,” said Nick Eaves, WEG's President & CEO. "The next critical step of the government plan is for the integration of gaming and racing through the optimization of Alliance tracks for the mutual benefit of horse racing and the provincial treasury. We are committed to that next step as we implement this new racing model and ensure the robust future of this industry.”
The Horse Racing Partnership Plan is effective April 1, 2014.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Ontario Racing Commission issued the following statement regarding changes to the Home Market Area.
The commission press release said an important change in Ontario racing is the establishment of "a single Home Market Area (HMA) for Telephone Account Betting (TAB) for the province to create a consistent product for Ontario bettors using the system. Historically HMA`s were assigned to individual racetracks, which then contracted with Woodbine Entertainment Group to use Horse Player Interactive (HPI).
"The revenue flowing from the single HMA will be used for the benefit of the Centralized Racetracks, which includes Woodbine, Mohawk, Flamboro, Georgian, Western Fair, Grand River, Clinton, Hanover and Ajax Downs. Regional Racetracks will receive their funding for operations and purses from on-track revenue and agreements with government for funding.
"The Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency has been advised of this change, and information related to the change will flow to current account holders in the affected areas of the province. This decision comes into effect on April 1, 2014."