Plan in the works to save beleaguered Truro Raceway

Harry Sullivan
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A trainer takes a horse for a jog Friday at Truro Raceway. The Bible Hill track's horsemen were given a two-week extension yesterday as talks to save the raceway continue. The track was originally slated to close after this Sunday's race card. Randi Beers - Special to the Truro Daily News

By Harry Sullivan

TRURO DAILY NEWS

TRURO – Harness racing at Truro Raceway has been assured for the next two weeks and plans are in the works for the facility’s long-term salvation.

“All is well as of right now. I feel probably 200 per cent better than I did yesterday,” said Steve Morton, president of both the Nova Scotia Harness Racing Industry (NSHRI) and the Truro Harness Horse Owner’s Association, following an emergency meeting held on Friday morning.

“We’re going to be able to race for the next two weeks,” he said, adding that trainers will also be able to continue to use the track for training purposes.

Horsemen were notified earlier this week by the Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition Commission (NSPE), which owns the race track and related facilities, that racing would not be continued beyond Sunday because of a crippling financial situation. The commission earlier reported that it is approximately $1million in debt.

Trainers were also notified that the electrical and water services to the stables would be shut down by Aug. 15 and the barns would have to be vacated. But Morton said that is no longer the case given that the NSHRI will be providing $100,000 to keep things operating in the short term.

As for whether Atlantic Grand Circuit Week activities will carry on as usual beginning July 21, however, has not been determined.

“We’ll be racing all the way through we just don’t know what menu it’s going to be,” Morton said. “We have to work all that out.”

Friday’s meeting consisted of Morton, local businessman Brent MacGrath (co-owner and former trainer of Somebeachsomewhere), Truro-Bible Hill MLA Lenore Zann, veteran trainer Danny Romo and two members of the NSPE commission.

Board member Laurie Jennings, who attended the session, said he is attempting to organize an emergency meeting of commission members for early next week and if all are in agreement with the proposal made yesterday, a group of prominent local businessmen led by MacGrath will be given leave to put together a business plan for a long-term solution for the facility.

“I can’t really comment that this is the solution and it will save it and we will be racing again, I’m not going to say that, but I’d like to think that it’s a possibility,” he said. “And I know there is potential there. I know with the right people with the right financing with a little bit of creativity and imagination with changing a whole lot of old habits – there’s lots of things we’ve done, just because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

Jennings said the commission’s decision to shut down the raceway was not taken lightly. But with no money to pay for future simulcast betting or the large purses required for Atlantic Grand Circuit Week, the board’s hand was forced, he said, because no one on the board wanted to make commitments to the horsemen, staff or to vendors to incur more expense “that we had a pretty good notion we’d never be able to pay.

“And that’s not fair to anybody. It was a hard, hard decision and I’ll tell you that there’s nobody that’s pleased about it.”

Zann, who said no new government funding will be forthcoming for the short-term operations at the facility, expressed optimism that the track can be saved.

“We all left with smiles on our faces and saying that we really hope that this can go forward,” she said, providing the existing commission board members agree to step aside to let the plan proceed.

“The ball is again now in the court of the board. But I feel optimistic because it’s actually a good plan and, if anybody can help to turn things around there at the track, who understands the industry, who’s a good business person, who understands business, who understands change and the change in that particular industry, Brent is the man.”

MacGrath said he has agreed to set up a committee that can “hopefully sift through this thing and see if we can get it on track to have a long-time viable exhibition.”

But that will require a complete refurbishment of the entire exhibition operations and not just the racetrack.

“The whole facility is what needs to be overhauled,” he said. “The exhibition needs to be healthy in order for the racing to be healthy and the racing needs to be healthy in order for the exhibition to be healthy. It’s a total package.”

Providing the existing board does agree to turn over responsibility to his group, MacGrath said, it is his aim to have a long-term business plan in place within six months to a year to provide for approval to the provincial government and local municipal leaders.

Because without the combined assistance from the province, the Town of Truro, the County of Colchester and the Village of Bible Hill, he said, any proposal to save the facility simply will not be viable.

“Am I optimistic about keeping racing going? I am. Am I optimistic about keeping it going in the business model that we’ve been used to? Probably there are some changes that have to be done. I don’t know what they are,” MacGrath said.

“I’d like to come back and say this is our findings, this is what we think it is going to take to keep this place going. And I’m talking about the whole property and it could be a changed landscape.”

hsullivan@trurodaily.com

Twitter: tdnharry

 

Organizations: Nova Scotia Harness Racing Industry, Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition Commission, NSPE Commission

Geographic location: Truro Harness Horse Owner

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Recent comments

  • ken Burke
    July 14, 2013 - 10:45

    Delaying the inevitable, no matter how much you re-organize etc etc, the industry is on life support. The Casino took the gambling income and didn't share. Not one cent should come from taxpayers. You can not prevent time for moving on, nor interest people in going to the track so if people don't want to watch a TV show they cancel it, if they don't want the races cancel them!

  • Charles
    July 13, 2013 - 05:53

    I sure hope this isn't going to turn out to be another money loosing proposition for the rich being shouldered by the taxed poor

  • Concerned
    July 12, 2013 - 18:39

    Not that I can pretend to know much about the horse racing world. I have been thinking over the past week about this issue, it occurs to me that it has been known by everyone involved about the tracks downfall over the past few years. Yet why hasn't someone taken steps to try to turn around things before this point. I'm not someone who reads the newspaper all the time but I do read it some and have never really noticed anything ever really mentioned about how badly in debt the track really was. I know some of what I'm about to say is probably falling a bit late for suggestions to save this historical land mark for our community but I guess it don't hurt to make the suggestions. There are some things I thought about that may have helped to re-establish the industry with the younger folks of the community. Things that could introduce newer folks to the whole expierence. With out really costing anyone any real monies. Example: Why not have a weekly raffle where folks could bring a food item to the track to donate to the food bank and when they do they could gain a ticket. The ticket would be for a draw of a prize which could really be anything really. With a few phone calls maybe some local business donate an item or two for this draw. and then on live race days people who donated who got the ticket win something that was donated. Then perhaps they felt a bit lucky to have won a prize they might feel lucky enough to place a bet. Another example may be if the trainers and owners wouldn't mind donating a bit of time they could do a few meet and greet sort of things. Where they have maybe 10 horses or so ones that do not spook easily that like attention. On 1 day a month for a few summer months make the horses and trainers and maybe a few jockeys able to be avaiable for people to bring their children over to see the horses talk to the jockeys & trainers learn about the world of harness racing. Let the kids maybe be able to bruch a few of the horses down feed them a treat or two things of that nature. Let the community get to know and take pride in what harness racing is all about. Maybe a few of those kids would like to be around horses and it could spark an interest for that child and maybe keep them off the streets and give them something positive to do. Maybe the trainers or jockeys or owners could also run a volunteer program where at risk kids could maybe do some community service at the track helping to clean stalls and feed horses and learn to take care of horses. Sort of give back to the community type of experience. I know this may not solve the problem but it's a few ideas that may turn the Truro area around because the track and horses then become something people take pride in and a part of the world of horses. I'm sure the trainers and groomers and owners or jockeys wouldn't mind a bit of free help with the care of their loved horses and the people would love to know their kids are off the street not getting into trouble doing god knows what. Who knows those very kids who may like something like this may grow up to want to own horses or race themselves. It could spark a new generation for the industry aside from family who grew up in the horse world because their parents owned horses. Maybe work with some of the less fortunate 4h kids who love 4h but can't afford to own their own horses and they need a harse to show for 4 h events. Again it may not generate money but it's a win win for both organizations. The 4h kids become attached to the horses they work with and in turn maybe they start coming to see the horse race and eventually they have their families get interested and start to attend races. It going to take a whole community to turn this track around but also a lot of effort on the part of the owners and trainers and jockeys and others who want to keep this going. You have all put blood sweat & tears into this to own and race the horses you all love. So lets rally and Get our hands dirty and put some good ideas to use and get people interested in the world of harness racing. Educate people about the track and that it's not just a place to learn how to gamble and kids shouldn't see such things. I know the track also has the lotto machines and yes that does generate some money. You need more things than just that to make the track a more positive experience for the whole community. What worked 30 years ago to keep the track interesting won't work today. Things like this have to change with hte times and new ideas need to be tried to re-introduce the community to the positive things about harness racing. and the amount of income and tourists it has the potential to generate. So everyone is saying loosing the track will effect jobs businesses income for horse families maybe even cause some good race horses to be put down because it's no longer fiasable to keep them. Now is the time to maybe set up a donation fund to help pull the track out of debt and keep the business of horses going in our community. Talk to people ask for help teach people to be prideful in the history of the track by positive community interactions with the public. Lenora we know you are trying to help keep up the good fight people speak out and get better organizers inplace if you have to maybe take a look at getting people who have fund raising skills to maybe volunteer their time for 1 event month to help get things rolling. Yes everyone today wants to get paid for doing things but in the world of trying to save things you have to forget the pay and volunteer some time to save these things. Our community has come to the beck and call of helping out before for many things now it the time to call for the help of those same people to turn this thing around. Lenora Zann I know you have wonderful skills in finding ways to get help when needed. So god be with you in your efforts on this issue.