Day At The Track

Community split on full-time move to Mohawk

05:40 AM 18 Jun 2017 NZST
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Training action shot at Mohawk
Training action shot at Mohawk Racetrack

A $10-million investment to bring year-round harness racing to Mohawk Racetrack has been met with mixed emotions in the local standardbred community.

This according to Ontario Harness Horse Association general manager Brian Tropea.

“I think the feeling’s split. On the one hand there’s the convenience of travel, but what does it mean when we’ll have no presence at the largest market in Canada (Woodbine),” he told the Champion, responding to Tuesday’s announcement of the major upgrades set for the Campbellville track, where harness racing will be held exclusively following construction that’s scheduled to be complete by next spring. “I think it’ll be detrimental to the growth of the industry.”

Woodbine Entertainment CEO Jim Lawson sees things differently.

“This has been well thought out for 24 to 30 months and we’re extremely comfortable with our decision. Milton’s the fastest-growing community in Canada. The population increase is off the chart,” he said, adding that 75 per cent of wagering is now done online. “We’ve done our homework. Anyone with concerns about the Toronto market don’t have access to our numbers.”

Lawson said the ‘critical threshold’ in the plan was the OLG’s commitment to providing a new gaming partner at Mohawk for the next 21 years.

“That was a game changer for us.”

Said seasoned local trainer Ben Wallace, “I’ll miss being in the central core of Toronto, but I think this is a plus for everyone. I just hope the commitment is as flamboyant as it could be.”

On Tuesday, Woodbine Entertainment announced plans to winterize the grandstand, paddock and maintenance facilities at Mohawk.

However, “Investment in the Milton track is not limited to the construction projects and plant upgrades,” said Woodbine Entertainment in a release.

The company also unveiled a new corporate branding with plans to unify its racetracks under one brand, Woodine.

“The Woodbine track will retain its name while Mohawk will become Woodbine at Mohawk Park, set to be implemented when harness racing returns to the site full-time in May 2018,” said the company.

While Milton-area horse people will no doubt see a financial benefit in terms of travel and shipping expenses once year-round racing begins at a soon-to-be-winterized Mohawk, Wallace said those costs are nothing compared to what his New York-based colleagues deal with.

“Try going from south New Jersey to somewhere like Yonkers. We’re in horse paradise here.”

Tropea describes Mohawk as the superior facility for standardbred racing — with fans much closer to the action. However, he questioned if people will be lining the fence in the winter, even with the upgrades planned.

He suggested the announcement has more to do with benefiting the thoroughbred industry at Woodbine, where a full casino could be built and supporting transit put in place — further bolstering the Toronto track as the premiere destination in Ontario.

Tropea also expressed concerns about changes to racing’s revenue sharing agreement — with a split of the breeds.

Currently Mohawk offers live racing from April to October, with its biggest card — the $1-million Pepsi North America Cup, set for tonight (Saturday).

by Steve LeBlanc

Reprinted with permission of the Inside Halton site

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