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An industry older than Confederation, one that looms especially large in Southwestern Ontario, is shut out of behind-doors deal-making that could spell its demise. Harness racing in North America dates back to 1788 and was thought as recently as five years ago to support up to 60,000 jobs in Ontario. But five years after Ontario slashed funding from slots revenue to the industry by more than half, those who depend on horse racing in the London region — breeders, trainers, drivers and many who supply the business — fear the death knell may be approaching. “You got to feel kind of helpless,” said Mark Horner, who owns a stable in St. Marys and is a director of Standardbred Canada and the Central Ontario Standardbred Association. Big change is coming to the Western Fair District after the province’s gambling arm, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., (OLG), licensed away gaming in much of Southwestern Ontario in private bidding won by Vancouver-based Gateway Casinos & Entertainment. That winning bid has led to a complex set of negotiations, with Gateway demanding more favourable terms than what OLG paid to use the slots building at the fairgrounds in London, home to the region’s largest racing operation. Gateway is in the business of casinos, not horse racing, so when its spokesperson threatened to moved the casino from the fairgrounds if the company can’t secure a good deal, that sent shock waves through the local horse racing industry that’s been on shaky grounds since 2013. “It put a knot in your stomach,” Horner told The Free Press. In horse racing, it’s the greyhound-like thoroughbreds that draw the biggest spotlight, from the rolling hills of Kentucky to the racetrack at Woodbine. But while thoroughbreds are a high-stakes game and the domain of the wealthy, sturdier standardbreds — the horses used in harness racing, where they pull a two-wheeled cart called a sulky — are the lifeblood of Ontario racing because they can race four times as often and deliver more predictable returns, Horner said. Western Fair offers the second-biggest racing purses in Ontario, he said, and if that’s lost or even diminished, the entire industry in the province may be trotting towards extinction. Hugh Mitchell, the chief executive at the Western Fair District, knows the stakes. “Without the lease payments we can not support live racing,” Mitchell said. “We’re working with the government and Gateway to find a solution.” Negotiations are tough because they involve agreements between four different entities: Gateway, OLG, Western Fair and the city of London, which co-owns most of the fairgrounds. “I’ve never seen something so complex — not in my lifetime, and I’m 63. . . There’s a lot of heaving lifting left,” Mitchell said. “It really has (created) apprehension . . . This is thousands of jobs . . . The horse people are anxious. Most have spent their lives in this business (and) they’re not at the (negotiating) table.” Horner is confident Mitchell does want to save horse racing – but he doesn’t know if the Western Fair has the leverage to get what it wants and Horner doesn’t see an ally in OLG, calling talks with the government agency an “uphill battle.” As for Gateway, it has no interest in subsidizing horse racing. And while it hopes an expanded casino can partner with the racetrack, it’s the former that is the company’s focus. “They are two separate entities,” Gateway spokesperson Rob Mitchell said. “We bid on a casino. (It) has nothing to do with horse racing.” Gateway wants a larger casino that would also host table games and its signature restaurants, and possible a hotel as well — plans that require a far bigger piece of real estate than what’s now home to the building housing slot machines at Western Fair District. Gateway has asked the city and Western Fair to sell it land they jointly own or to reduce the $6 million a year OLG pays to lease the casino building, a deal that expires in 2020. The company’s bargaining pitch is simple: If you want 700 new jobs and more than $140 million in investment, sell us the land or give us a better deal. So while Fairgrounds CEO Hugh Mitchell never imagined a hotel at the fairgrounds, he concedes that’s what Gateway wants, and if a deal is to be made to save horse racing, there may need to be new streams of revenue. “We’re looking for complimentary uses that benefit all four parties,” Hugh Mitchell said. “Horse racing is in our DNA.” Whether a hotel fits in city plans remains to be seen, however. Possible opponents include those who represent existing hotels. “I know none of the hoteliers are happy about it, the early rumblings,” said Luca Monti, sales manager at Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites London and a board member of the Ontario Restaurant, Hotel and Motel Association’s London branch. “We welcome the tourists coming to the city, for sure, but if that’s going to be a one-stop destination, and have everything covered in that complex there, it’s worrisome to all of us.” “We don’t think it will put us out of business, by any means. But it’ll hurt numbers.” His concerns resonate with Coun. Phil Squire, who’s skeptical a new hotel and expanded casino will breathe more life into the Old East Village. “I don’t think people should get too excited about the economic development in the area around it, because normally a casino creates a little area around it where you don’t get as much development, because everything is self-contained. “The gambling, the restaurant, the accommodation is all in the casino structure,” Squire said. The ward councillor, Jesse Helmer, shares that view. “Casinos are not like other kinds of business. Generally speaking, they face inward. The goal is to keep people in there as long as possible, and provide everything they need in the facility, so it can tend to be a bit of an island,” he said. Even residents in the Old East Village have mixed views of an expanded casino, said Helmer, citing “a mix of cautiously optimistic and just cautious.” Helmer himself sees potential pitfalls and benefits to an expanded casino. “The social impacts that come with gambling, especially problem gambling, are really significant,” and it’s easy to “underrate” the negatives, he said. “(But) if (Gateway) relocates the casino out of the community, there might be an impact of millions of dollars on the city budget, and we’d have to make changes in the budget to accommodate that. We’d have to raise taxes or cut some services or push things off in the future. People need to understand those trade-offs,” Helmer said. “The licence is for a big geographic area. Conceivably, Gateway could operate in a different location. That’s something else we have to keep in mind.” Gateway has said it prefers the Western Fair site but will look elsewhere in London if a favourable deal can’t be struck. Once Gateway completes a deal with London, it will turning to gaming operations and horse racing elsewhere in the region, including Clinton and Dresden, said Ian Fleming, manager of the Clinton Raceway. “People are obviously nervous, Fleming said. “There have been a lot of changes the past four or five years.” By Jonathan Sher, Megan Stacey, The London Free Press Reprinted with permission of The London Free Press   PLAYERS AT THE TABLE City of London Now getting about $4.5 million a year from OLG, based on a percentage of slot revenue. Received $597,500 in rent in 2017 from Western Fair District. An expanded casino and hotel would bring construction jobs and long-term employment but also create competition for existing hotels and other entertainment venues.   Western Fair District Getting $6 million a year from OLG for use of the slots building, according to Gateway. With its agricultural roots, wants to keep horse racing viable. Most of its lands are co-owned by the city.   Gateway Entertainment and Casinos Won licensing bids to run government gambling enterprises in southwestern and northern Ontario. Wants a much bigger London casino that includes table games, signature restaurants and possibly a hotel.   Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. Wants to modernize — squeeze more cash — out of gambling operations in Ontario by handing the keys to private operators that win bids. Giving about $160 million a year in benefits to the horse racing industry through the Horse Racing Partnership Funding Program and tax relief for horse-race wagering.   NOT AT THE TABLE (BUT WITH STAKES IN THE OUTCOME) Horse racing industry Saw its share of slot money slashed in 2013 from $345 million a year to about $90 million plus tax reductions Before the change in funding, about 60,000 jobs were directly or indirectly related to horse racing; about half those jobs were lost   London hotel industry Doesn’t want to lose customers to a hotel built on city-owned land   Old East Village Redevelopment there might get an assist from an expanded casino and hotel.   THE EXISTING DEALS: OLG and Western Fair District: Facility lease through 2020 that pays the fair $6 million a year, according to Gateway OLG and city of London: City gets about $4.5 million a year from a deal signed in 2013 that lasts until there are no longer games there or the licensing permit is no longer available. City and Western Fair District: Lease payments that resulted in $597,500 in 2017; the fair is exempt from property taxes, since most of its land is co-owned by the city. Any new or expanded building need the written approval of the city as well as the required permits. City also co-owns the existing grandstand slots building and half of the parking lots in front of the grandstand where the casino might be extended. OLG and Gateway: Gateway won bid for southwestern gaming services that include a casino in Point Edward and slots in London, Woodstock, Clinton, Dresden and Hanover, the last three of which have raceways.   HORSE RACING HISTORY 1788: An English thoroughbred stallion named Messenger is shipped to America through whom all Standardbreds, a more durable but less speedy breed, trace their ancestry.   1849: A great grandson of Messenger and the first standardbred, Hambletonian 10, is born in a rural hamlet about an hour north of New York City. He would go on to produce more than 1,300 foals by 1875 and make rich an illiterate stable hand named Rysdyk. 1879: The National Association of Trotting Horse Breeders agreed upon standards that require a stallion to trot a mile in two minutes and thirty seconds or better, or 2:35 if hitched to a wagon. The new name of the breed is called a standardbred and is best known for harness racing. * Source: Standardbred Canada

London, June 2, 2016 -- One of the most recognizable names in Ontario harness racing over the past decade, Button Up, has officially hung up his horse shoes at age 13. The connections of the popular pacer have announced his retirement following a distinguished 341-race career in which he amassed more than $824,000. Bred by Bill Andrew and Dr Fred Kruszelnicki of Alberta, the son of Northern Luck - Better Butter sold for $18,000 as a yearling at the 2004 Kentucky Standardbred Yearling Sale. He was campaigned throughout his entire career by Mark Horner and his wife Stephanie of St Marys, Ontario, along with his caretaker Susan McNeight and driver Mike Horner. The entire Button Up team has remained in place since the beginning of his career, a rarity in today's game. The biggest payday of his career came as a rookie in the 2005 edition of the $300,000 Battle Of Waterloo at Grand River Raceway. On that day, the slick-gaited pacer routed his rivals by seven lengths in 1:56.2. Little did the Horners know, but that win would be the beginning of a very special streak that they are particularly proud of. "Button Up is undefeated on Industry Day at Grand River," explains Mark Horner. "He won the Battle there in 2005 and then won the Preferred on the undercard as an older horse in 2007, 2010 and 2012. He loved that track and his home track of London in particular. He was great gaited and durable - two of his best attributes." Health issues have forced Button Up to the sidelines recently prompting his connections to call it a career and allow him to now live out his days kicking up his heels on the family farm. "He has given us quite a ride," says Horner. "It's sad to see it end but he deserves it and will always have a good home here. Horses like Button Up are rare and special and we appreciate all he has given us and the fans who enjoyed watching him compete over the years." Button Up retires with an impressive tally of 49 wins and 170 top three finishes- a 50% on-the-board rate. He averaged $2,400 in purse winnings every time he raced throughout his career and in November of this past year showed his longevity with a sparkling 1:54.1 win at The Raceway in London. Congratulations to Button Up on a wonderful racing career and best wishes for a happy retirement. Greg Blanchard

TORONTO, May 21 - WEG standardbred racing is set to return to Mohawk Racetrack in Campbellville for the 51st season of live racing. The 102-day meet will kick off on Thursday, May 22 and live racing will be held five nights a week on Mondays, Tuesdays (except May 27 and October 7) , Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Each race night will have a 7:25 p.m. first race post time. "It's an exciting time of the year," noted driver Jonathan Drury. "Everyone looks forward to the return of Mohawk because that means it's summer time and a full schedule of great stakes events. Other drivers along with fans and customers are going to have a lot of fun this summer." The most anticipated event on the stakes calendar is the $1 million Pepsi North America Cup, featuring the finest three-year-old pacers, set for Saturday, June 14. The evening will offer a special post time of 6:45 p.m. Stakes action begins immediately at Mohawk, with the SBOA Stakes eliminations for three-year-old filly pacer and trotters featured on the initial Saturday card, and continues almost non-stop until fall. Major stakes engagements include the Maple Leaf Trot (Saturday, July 19), the Metro Pace, Canadian Pacing Derby and Shes A Great Lady Stakes (Saturday, August 30) and the Canadian Trotting Classic, Elegantimage Stakes, Peaceful Way Stakes and William Wellwood Memorial (Saturday, September 13). Ribs will be prominent throughout Pepsi North America Cup weekend as Crabby's BBQ Shack and Silver Bullet BBQ will play host to fans.The popular 'Your First Bet Is On Us' promotion returns. Every customer can register on site for a free $2 bet. Fans can also visit Labatt's Beerville to play great games and win cool prizes. Mohawk Racetrack will also be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the town of Campbellville. Mohawk will host fireworks on Friday, June 13 with a special post time of 7:05 p.m. Mohawk fans can also follow the action each night on Twitter. Hosts Mike Hamilton, along with track announcer Ken Middleton and Greg Gangle will offer 'tweets' during each live program aimed at giving customers more race related information. You can follow them on Twitter at the following: Hamilton_WOMoh, Middleton_WOMoh, GGangle_WOMoh. Fans should also be sure to check out Mohawks Trackside Bar for its nightly specials throughout the meet. The specials are listed below: Monday - 1/2 Price Wings Tuesday - Bud & Burger Thursday - Steak N Stella Friday - Thank Cod It's Friday Patrons are also encouraged to engage with Mohawk Racetrack through its Facebook page found by clicking the following link: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mohawk-Racetrack/164889090219676 Also fans can go to www.Twitter.com to sign on to Twitter and then search for the following harness racing stars. Drivers: Aaron Byron - @ByronAaron Chris Christoforou - @CCAstreos Dan Clements - @DanielWClements Jonathan Drury - @JDruryRacing Billy Davis Jr. - @BillyDavisRacin Phil Hudon – @Whodon99 Jonathan Drury - @JDruryRacing Anthony Haughan - @AHaughan Jody Jamieson - @JodyJamRacing James MacDonald - @JamesOMac26 Anthony MacDonald – @HorseRacingAMac Doug McNair – @DMcNair12 Scott Young – @YoungieAnswers Scott Zeron - @ScottZeron Trainers: Carmen Auciello - @CarmenAuciello Nick Boyd - @Ralphie9 Blair Burgess - @Desibesi Casie Coleman - @FastLane111 Danny Girard - @DannyGirard1 Mark Horner - MarkHorner44 Corey Johnson – @SeaJay09 Blake MacIntosh - @BlakeMacRacing Robert McIntosh - @BobMcIntosh52 Jason McGinnis - @JasonMcGinnis21 Anthony Montini - @MontiniRacing Mike Sinclair - @Sinny51 Shawn Steacy - @S_Steacy‎ by Greg Gangle, for WEG

A parade of Preferreds closed out Western Fair Raceway's Monday evening card with Peter Core trainees taking two of the final four races. Despite weather related scratches in all 12 races and temperatures dropping 15 degrees below zero, harness racing proceeded at the snowy London, Ont. oval, which was rated three seconds off. With Nick Steward driving, Cards That Count ($16.50) pulled off a 7-1 upset in the first $6,500 Fillies & Mares Preferred 3 Pace for Core. The six-year-old Cams Card Shark mare settled for a pocket trip through the fastest opening quarter of the card, clocked in :27.2, and chased home Mamasaidso to defeat that favourite by one length in 1:59.2. The winner is owned by Donald and Heather McGregor of Camlachie, Ont. Trotting mare Joyful Road ($8.50) converted off a two-hole trip to win another $6,500 Preferred 3 in 2:03.4 for Core and his partners Don Allensen of Wyoming, Ont. and Sarnia, Ont.'s Raymond Core and Daniel Diebold. The five-year-old daughter of Thunder Road wore down the popular pacesetter, Windsun Fireball, for the three-quarter-length tally. Lorne House earned back-to-back driving wins in Preferred action with Joyful Road and Kendal Gustav ($4.80). The latter led the field, which was reduced from nine to four, in the $6,500 Preferred 3 Pace for the two and three-quarter length victory matching Cards That Count's fastest mile of the night in 1:59.2. The five-year-old Life Sign gelding is trained and owned by Scott McNiven of Putnam, Ont. and co-owners Thomas Brodhurst of London, Ont. and Shirley Griffin of St. Thomas, Ont. Making the first start of his 11-year-old campaign, Button Up ($4.30) won the other $6,800 Preferred 3 Pace in 2:00.4. Driven by Mike Horner, the early leader was shuffled back to last in the short four-horse field and rallied around the advancing favourite, Thats The Life, to prevail by half a length over that rival. The son of Northern Luck, who has won 43 races and $764,901 in purses lifetime, is owned and trained by Mark Horner of St Marys, Ont. To view Monday's harness racing results, click on the following link: Monday Results - Western Fair. Reprinted with permission by www.standardbredcanada.ca 

TORONTO, November 27 – Mark Horner is the first to admit that he’s not a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, but when he hears the name Franceschetti, he can’t help but get excited. Franceschetti, a four-year-old gelding who is named after the veteran NHLer Lou Franceschetti, has back-to-back wins at Woodbine, including a victory in the $34,000 Preferred Pace this past Saturday. Horner, who trains a stable of 22, is certainly enjoying the thrills that ‘Lou,’ the pacer, has provided. “It’s certainly been a great ride so far in his career,” Horner said. “These past few weeks have certainly been special. From winning in a career best (1:49.1) two starts ago, to winning the Preferred is pretty awesome.” The son of Mach Three has made 17 trips to the winner’s circle from 47 starts and has banked $230,470 in his career. This season alone, the four-year-old has won eight of 21 starts and recently surpassed $100,000 on the year. He’ll look to continue his good form in the $34,000 Open event at Woodbine this Saturday, November 30. But, things were not always so promising for the son of Mach Three. After some strong racing with nine wins at two and three, Horner planned to give his pupil a rest in preparation for the Molson Pace held at Western Fair, last May. “That’s what the plan was,” he said. “We were aiming him for that, but then he got sick on us. It was a lung infection and we couldn’t get him healthy in time and we lost four months. We had to take him to Cornell University and they were able to diagnose the problem and get him cleaned up.” Now, one year later, Horner will once again have his eyes set on the Molson Pace, the premier event near his St Mary’s home. “We’ll race him all winter because he had a nice break in the summer, but he might get February off depending on the weather,” Horner said. “We’d like to prep him again for the Molson and we’ll also pay him into a few other top stakes next year for older pacers.” Now what about other Franceschetti, the player? He of the 493 NHL games played and 59 career goals, including 21 with 1989-90 Toronto Maple Leafs. “We didn’t name the horse, but I remember the player,” Horner said, of Franceschetti. “Since I’m not a Leaf fan, it doesn’t matter to me, but he was a good player. Luckily for us, he’s even a better horse.” Franceschetti, the horse, certainly made a bold statement this past Saturday at Woodbine with his recent victory against the best free-for-all pacers in Canada. “He always showed that kind of speed and he loves a helmet to follow,” Horner said. “If you provide him with a target, he’ll track it all day, that’s just the type of horse he is. Beating those types of animals is something not to take lightly. “He’s not a flashy animal, but he’s got a nice size to him with a powerful rear-end and that’s where the engine comes from,” Horner continued. When Franceschetti enters the Woodbine paddock on race night, you can expect to Horner, and his wife, Stephanie, in attendance. “Stephanie sure does deserve a lot of the credit,” Mark admits. “She works hard on him all week, is a big supporter and the results have spoken.” Come Saturday night, both Mark and Stephanie will hope the cries of ‘Looooooooooou’ will come down on Woodbine for Franceschetti, the horse, like they did at Maple Leaf Gardens once, for Franceschetti, the player. by Greg Gangle for WEG

After winning a conditioned event in a career-best 1:49.1 clocking with an eye-catching :25.3 closing quarter last week, Franceschetti hauled down the Preferred pacers on Saturday night for back-to-back wins at Woodbine Racetrack. Sent postward as the favourite in the $34,000 Preferred class following his impressive performance last week, Franceschetti and driver Doug McNair settled away fifth in the field scratched down to six. Meanwhile, second choice Camaes Fellow (Jack Moiseyev) established the lead and carved out fractions of :27.3, :55.4 and 1:23.1. As the field rolled by the third quarter station, Franceschetti followed Piston Broke (Sylvain Filion) to the outside and then unleashed a :26.4 final frame to sweep by for the 1:51.3 triumph over a track rated two seconds off. Camaes Fellow held off Piston Broke for the runner-up honours three-quarters of a length behind. Franceschetti paid $4.80 to win. The four-year-old Mach Three gelding is co-owned by trainer Mark Horner of St. Marys, Ont. and R A W Equine Inc. of Burlington, Ont. He now boasts eight wins in 21 starts this year with his seasonal earnings climbing over the $100,000 mark. To view Saturday's harness racing results, click on the following link: Saturday Results - Woodbine Racetrack. Reprinted with permission by www.standardbredcanada.ca

Team Horner had a profitable Monday at The Raceway at The Western Fair District thanks to an eye-catching triumph with the class jumping Franceschetti in this week’s edition of the $12,000 Preferred Pace. Fresh off a 1:56.2 score in the Preferred-3 class, Franceschetti romped to an easy victory in Monday's follow-up assignment for driver Mike Horner and trainer Mark Horner. The OSS graduate got away third in the early going before marching first over on the way to the half. He took command shortly past the mid-way point and motored to a four-length triumph over Clic K in 1:53. Modern Xhibit was third. Sent off at odds of 6-1, the four-year-old son of Mach Three-Puttinontheglitz won for the fourth time this year and for the 13th time in his career. The winner of $176,870 is owned by R A W Equine Inc of Burlington and Mark Horner of St. Marys, ON. Bad Boy Hill pushed his winning streak to two-in-a-row, as well, thanks to his 1:55 triumph in the $8,000 Preferred-2. Sent off at odds of 15-1, Nick Steward hustled the three-year-old son of Stonebridge Regal-Asleep Onthebeach rolled the field through fractions of :28.3, :57.2 and 1:26 before sprinting home in a :29-second clip en route to the 1:55 victory. It was 3-1/2 lengths back to runner-up Bestinthebusiness, with Beach Buff taking home the show dough. The gelding went 0-for-9 last season, but he’s put together a 4-for-13 record this year. He’s 2-for-2 since joining forces with Patrick Shepherd, who trains the winner of $95,120 for owner Tom Hill of Lancashire, GB. Cimeronken also used a ‘catch me if you can’ approach en route to winning the $8,000 Preferred-2 Handicap for trotters for the team of driver Scott Coulter and trainer Daryl Roberts. The four-year-old son of Ken Warkentin-Ms Biynka sliced out splits of :28, :58.1 and 1:28.3 before using a :29.2 closing quarter to win by a nose over Amigo Loco in 1:58. Thundering Ovation, who was the longest shot on the board at odds of 25-1, was third. Denise Anderson of Mossley, ON bred and owns the gelding who improved this year’s record to 7-1-1 from 18 trips to the track. The nine-time winner has stashed away more than $115,000 in lifetime earnings. The program also featured a set of $5,000 Preferred-3 tilts for pacers, with Judge Jon (1:54.4) and Just Crowned (1:54.2) winning their respective assignments. To view results for Monday's card of harness racing, click the following link: Monday Results – The Raceway at The Western Fair District. (reprinted with persmission from www.standardbredcanada.ca)

Mark Horner is always hopeful he will stumble on his very own Somebeachsomewhere someday. That's exactly why he has chosen to make a career out of harness racing. It's also why he likes working with young horses.

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