INNISFIL - Ontario Minister of Finance Vic Fedeli announced additional support for the province’s horse racing and breeding sectors Thursday at Georgian Downs racetrack in Innisfil.
The province had already signed a long-term deal with Ontario Racing, OLG and other partners, back in the fall of 2018, that will provide up to $105 million per year in funding to support racetrack operations and purses.
Now, there will be an additional $10 million per year for horse breeders and horsepeople, through the new Horse Improvement Program for Ontario-bred horses.
A “strong and viable” horse-racing and breeding sector is “vital to our rural communities… to create and protect Ontario jobs,” Fedeli said at press conference attended by representatives of the racing sector, horse breeders, OLG and the Town of Innisfil.
“Unlike the previous government, we listened to the industry. We made a promise and we kept it,” Fedeli said, referring to the long-term funding agreement which will kick in on April 1.
Funding will begin at $105 million per year, to be gradually phased out during the next 19 years, providing “stable, long-term support for a more sustainable and self-managed horse racing sector,” the minister said, promising more autonomy and transparency.
The government has also offered racetracks an Optional Slots at Racetracks Program (OSARP) that either restores or keeps slots at racetracks like Ajax Downs and Kawartha Downs, or offers additional financial support.
The new $10 million per year for breeders and horsepeople is being provided by the OLG (Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation), and Fedeli praised the “genuine partners and genuine partnerships” that have made the program possible.
Stephen Rigby, OLG president and CEO, spoke of the hard work, goodwill and commitment that will lead to a “a long-lasting conversation between the government and its horse-racing sector,” adding that the funding announcements are the “underpinning of a long-term, durable, predictable conversation.”
He noted, “OLG is providing nearly two decades of funding to ensure racetracks, breeders and horsepeople have the confidence they need to guide the future of the industry. This support will help promote long-term responsible management of the horse-racing industry in the province.”
Rigby concluded: “There is still a lot to be done. I have nothing but optimism… I think this is going to be a very good partnership moving forward – a great, great period in horse-racing.”
The Horse Improvement Program replaces the Enhanced Horse Improvement Program that used to be provided through the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). It will be Ontario Racing (OR) that will disburse the funding to breeders and others.
Fedeli noted the horseracing industry was “devastated by the previous government in 2012,” when the Wynne government “abruptly, without warning and without consultation” cancelled the existing funding support.
“We knew that something needed to be done,” to support horse breeding and horse racing, Fedeli said. “This is an important sector. It provides about $2 billion (a year) to Ontario’s economy. When you have something that important to rural Ontario, you can’t have that in jeopardy.”
John Hayes, independent chair of Ontario Racing, said the amended funding agreement shows a government commitment to rural communities and “respects the economic development horse racing generates in the province.”
“The added support will provide racetrack operators, breeders, owners, trainers, caretakers, grooms and others who dedicate their lives to the sport a level of confidence in the long-term sustainability of the industry,” he said.