Steve Paikan and his well known news show The Agenda hosted a panel to discuss the future of Ontario horse racing Jan. 23.

The discussion, entitled “Hurdles for Ontario Horse Racing” featured Jessica Buckley, new vice president of thoroughbred and standardbred racing for Woodbine Entertainment, Nick Coukos of Ajax Downs, John Snobelen, and National Post sports columnist Scott Stinson.

Topics covered centred on the government subsidies for Ontario horse racing since the OLG and government pulled out the Slots-at-Racetracks revenue sharing program almost a decade ago. Stinson characterized the amount given by the province to racing as a small amount in the big picture of Ontario funding while Paikan noted other subsidies for businesses such as bailouts for auto makers in the province.

How horse racing gets itself back into the mainstream now that the general public have stopped going to the track and betting, was another topic. Buckley noted that Woodbine is hinging a lot of its approach to luring news fans on its upcoming app Dark Horse, set to be launched in 2020.

Snobelen noted that the relationship between young people and the horse, farms and rural living has dropped sharply while Stinson noted those in his age group 30-40 are not coming to the track, not knowing enough about it.

Since Ontario horse racing lost the slots-at-racetracks program almost a decade ago, the revenue sharing program based on racetracks hosting the province’s slots (the province needed tracks to house the machines as the public did not want them in bars), horse racing has been devastated. The money given to racing since then has helped racing stay afloat and given time for tracks to figure out self sustainability.

In the last five years, the struggling Ontario horse-racing industry has received $500 million from Queen’s Park so that it could stay afloat. However, the industry also employs thousands of Ontarians. What are the challenges facing the world’s oldest spectator sport, what value does it provides to rural communities, and why is its relationship with the provincial government so fraught?