MILTON, P.E.I. - Prince Edward Island's largest standardbred breeding farm could be directly affected by the closing of the racetrack in Truro, N.S.
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Meridian Farms East operator Brian Andrew attempts to catch one of the yearlings stabled at the farm. Meridian was planning on selling eight of its 24 yearlings in the Truro yearling sale, but with the track closing Monday, the sale might not happen.
Meridian Farms East currently owns 110 horses on P.E.I. Eight of its 24 yearlings were scheduled to walk through the sales ring in the Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition sale in October.
With this week’s announcement of Truro Raceway closing on Monday, it’s up in the air if the Oct. 25 sale will take place.
“My understanding is there are between 20 to 25 horses already consigned to Truro and if it does go south, I think we, as breeders, would ask the Island sale to open up for these horses,” said Meridian Farms owner Bill Andrew.
He said it wouldn’t be easy for them to say yes because they have trouble selling the amount of horses they have now in one day. The sale will take place Oct. 11 in Crapaud.
“We might search for another place to have an auction, or we would sell them privately.”
The Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition Commission, operators of the Truro-area track, informed horsemen and women the track would be locked up after Sunday’s races.
The commission’s board voted Monday to shut down racing at the track because of a crippling financial situation that has haunted the organization for years.
“As a breeder you don’t want to see it happen because they are part of the Maritime scene. We don’t just breed horses for P.E.I., we breed horses for the Maritimes,” said Brian Andrew, Meridian Farms East operator. “We are a large commercial breeder and we sell horses every year at the Truro sale.”
Truro is at a crossroads, much like when P.E.I. was hit with hurricane Juan.
“Our facility was done and we had to get together as an industry and decide what we were going to do,” Brian Andrew explained. “We had to get a partnership with Atlantic Lotto and get a new facility and now the industry here is going ahead, we’re a $40-million-plus industry here.”
Bill Andrew has been a part of the Alberta Standardbred Horse Association and was director of Horse Racing Alberta. He said they went through the same thing as Truro is now.
“It happens because you get exhibition boards that won’t have the same relationship with the racing committee (as previous members) and they think racing is costing too much and they shut things down,” he said.
It’s a case where the exhibition board is more worried about other things, Bill Andrew said.
“If you look at what they're running there, they run a ton of events at the grounds and I don’t know if they're making any money but they lost lots of money to bring in other things.”
He went through the same thing in Edmonton.
“They said they didn’t need horse racing and they brought in the grand prix and they ended up losing millions. Now they're back with racing horses.”
A lot of money goes into raising the horses, he said.
“I think it’s viewed as a rich man’s hobby in the Maritimes and nothing could be further from the truth. It’s part of the fabric of life down here.”
Meridian Farms currently stands seven stallions in the Maritimes and the stallions make it feasible to operate a commercial breeding farm, Bill Andrew said.
“If there is a decrease in demand for horses, than there is a decrease in demand for stallions and that will really impact the commercial breeders.”
The decrease in demand is starting to show through with tracks in both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia unsure if they will be racing in 2014.
“We have to keep what we can support, “Brian Andrew said. “We have to look at our market every year and see what we can support.”
Bruce Wood recently took over the operations of Woodmere Farms after his father Wally passed away. He is trying to stay positive about the whole situation.
“Sometimes from desperate situation come very positive outcomes. Sometimes when people get the rug pulled out from underneath your feet people tend to get together for the better,” he said,
Something like this is a start to push things forward, he said.
“We can’t just take, take, take, we eventually have to start to give back.”
Wood has recently restocked with a couple of new broodmares but he is not worried.
“I think the industry on the Island is healthy and I hope something positive with come out of a bad situation in Nova Scotia.”
Harness racing starts right from the breeding farm and support many local businesses.
“We put a lot back into the economy, starting with our feed companies and the people we employees right to the trucks we buy,” said Brian Andrew.
Bill Andrew said people don’t realize how many people are involved with a regular card.
“You need 100 horses every time you race, with all the services you have at least 300 to 400 people directly involved and many others. Think about how many businesses would have 200 people employed.”
We need more public awareness, he preached.
“If this was the fish plant closing down it’s front page news, but we’re buried in the back.”
He said he feels for people directly impacted by the news in Truro.
“I’m very sympathetic for them, but much like everyone else I think they will get something sorted out, but they have a long road ahead.”
Talks are still on going between the Truro Harness Horse Owners Association, the commission and the Nova Scotia government.