Despite the efforts of the HBPA and the Fort Erie EDTC, the likelihood that live racing will happen at Fort Erie in 2010 is very dim.
Ontario HBPA President Sue Leslie paints a rather grim picture when it comes to the potential sale of the track. "Negotiations regarding the sale of Fort Erie Racetrack are stalling. In our observations the offer made to Nordic Gaming are not in line with their expectations in terms of the racetracks value."
What value? Nordic claims they are losing $3-4 million a year. And the business isn't looking any brighter. Their handles lately have been brutal. They appear to be off around 20% of late at least.
Note to Nordic: You can barely give away a business that loses millions a year. Nordic Gaming doesn't care about that fact. They continue to ask for prices way above the market. If it wasn't for pure "extortion" this year, there would have been no racing at all.
There was government money lying around ($2 million that was supposed to go towards a feasibility project for the smoke and mirrors $300 million expansion) to give away to Nordic. There is no more money left (Nordic has it all), so there are few options left in order for racing to happen at The Fort next year.
So what are the options?
1. Nordic sells the track. Won't happen without a government bail out, as Nordic always want way too much.
2. Fort Erie doesn't open next year for racing. This will crush the already down and out breeding and owning businesses in Ontario. Right now, because of the uncertainty going forward when it comes to B racing in Ontario, there is no claiming going on at Fort Erie, and it is nearly impossible to give a horse away. If there is no out in Ontario for horse owners, demand for Woodbine horses will also get hurt. For one thing, less Fort Erie horsemen means less demand for claimers at Woodbine, and without Fort Erie, there is greater risk claiming one for $12,500 to $20,000 than ever before. If the horse isn't competitive for Woodbine bottoms, the owner pretty much has to ship the horse to the States, and many owners don't want that hassle, and they want the option at least, to watch their horse run live.
The HBPA is now pushing for slots to close if the track isn't open. This could be a great wake-up call for Nordic Gaming if it does happen. It will definitely motivate them to sell, and probably at a very realistic price.
3. Woodbine steps in and leases Fort Erie for $1. They assume all losses for the near future. This does make business sense if Woodbine's goal is to grow horse racing in Ontario and not to kill horse racing in Ontario. But I'm not sure that this is the case. As stated above, if there is no B thoroughbred track in Ontario, breeders will get clobbered as owners continue to become fewer, this time at an accelerated rate.
4. Ajax Downs runs 50-70 thoroughbred dates. This is looking like the most likely scenario. They will have a five furlong track ready to go for 2010. The only stumbling blocks are a rumoured horsemen's agreement where Quarter horsemen were promised that there would be no thoroughbred racing at Ajax through 2010. Contracts can be broken, because everyone has a price. The big negative when it comes to thoroughbred racing at Ajax is the fact they literally have no backstretch. There usually isn't room at Woodbine for B horses, so training B horses off a farm and shipping them in for race day, becomes very expensive and problematic.
5. The government (Finance Minister Dwight Duncan) buys into the Fort Erie EDTC's plan. I'll simplify the plan here: The Fort Erie EDTC wants the government to give the Consortia $15 million a year for six years to replace the proceeds Fort Erie gets from slots (which sits at around $8 million a year). The way I figure the extra $7 million will be used is as follows: $2 million extra to purses (this would be great and would encourage more ownership of horses), $3 million to cover losses (again, this is a must because the EDTC Consortia has no money, and $2 million to lease the track. The latter is a deal killer as far as I'm concerned. Giving Nordic one cent profit would be absolutely absurd.
6. The government (or the OLG) gives Nordic $2.5 million on a year to year basis to cover the losses of the track. This is probably the second most likely scenario, as it keeps Fort Erie open until Nordic finally lowers their price realistically enough to sell the joint (it is a bad time right now to begin with because of all the Magna tracks on the market. There are only so many outfits interested in owning a racetrack out there). Of course, if the government is really smart, they hire me to help get Fort Erie out of the red:) There are many ways Fort Erie can improve their bottom line.
I need to also mention the obvious: Without racing in Fort Erie, the Niagara Region's economy will get hurt big time.
If you want to help encourage the Honourable Dwight Duncan, Minister of Finance save Fort Erie racetrack, email him at (NOTE: It appears the email address may not work):
firstname.lastname@example.org. or fax him at 416-325-0374
For more read Perry Lefko's article in the new issue of Down The Stretch. Down The Stretch also has some early Breeder's Cup selections.