Homestretch for Northlands Racetrack
By Margaret Evans
This year will see the last horse racing season at Northlands Park in Edmonton, Alberta. Future plans for Northlands include an athletic complex with seven sheets of ice across two levels plus venues for professional lacrosse, rodeo events, minor hockey tournaments, and concerts. The location where the current casino and racetrack sit will become the site for a huge urban festival centre.
The announcement was not unexpected among those in the horse racing community, but it was not easy to mask their disappointment when the news came on February 17.
“That is the plan that they put to council and they have gone ahead with it,” says Shirley McClellan, CEO of Horse Racing Alberta. “It’s really disappointing. Horse racing has been here 100 years. But they make their decisions for their property. Last year we operated at Balzac, Calgary, and that went really well and it was very successful. People were happy to see horse racing back and we were happy to have two tracks for a while. It’s very hard on the breeders and everyone working in the industry. For a while it looked like we had real stability with two tracks. But this industry is very resilient. We weathered the [earlier] loss of the Calgary track and now we have [a new] one. We will weather this and we plan to continue racing.”
The $24-million Century Downs Racetrack and Casino in Calgary, Alberta, opened its doors in April, 2015.
To that end, McClellan said that there are industry partners interested in exploring options for racing in the Edmonton area.
“In Alberta, the horse racing and breeding industry is a way of life,” she says. “Every day, over 7,000 Albertans work hard caring for over 7,000 horses in communities across our province. Horse Racing Alberta remains committed to continue to race, entertain, provide jobs, and contribute significantly to Alberta’s economy.”
The Alberta racehorse industry, which began in 1882, provides economic benefits to the province of $399 million with taxes estimated at $33 million. The rural economic benefits amount to approximately $254 million across 400 farms and ranches. Some 1.2 million fans watch and wager $137 million at five racetracks or 41 off-track betting facilities. For all of them, horseracing is not just an industry; it is a way of life, a heritage, and a culture.
But when change comes, it can be difficult for some. Yet, from another perspective, it can also be a new beginning for many as other opportunities arise and the potential for a new facility may emerge in the future.
“We respect their decision and wish them well in their new endeavours,” says McClellan of the Northland executives’ decision. “We will work with Northlands Park as they transition out of racing to minimize the impact on our industry.”
Main article photo: canstockphoto0151126 – Kiankhoon