Many things remain on pause because of the pandemic, but Hastings Racecourse in Vancouver, BC, looks to be on target to begin the 2021 racing meet early next month. This may be one of the brightest spots in an industry that has been hard hit by enforced closures and a provincial government digging in its heels.
“The good news is we are going to open on time on May 3rd,” said Glen Todd, an owner, breeder and trainer and thoroughbred representative on the British Columbia Horse Racing Industry Management Committee. “We’ve got enough funding at the moment to run at least twenty-five days. So we are going to get off to a good start.”
Last year, Hastings started the racing meet late and only raced 25 out of the 51 allotted racing days. For those 25 days, the track emerged with a handle of $14,374,496, compared to the 2018 total of $25,243,879 and 2019’s $29,112,973.
This year, they will start on time and will be running races on the weekday as opposed to a weekend card.
“There is very little product on the Monday and Tuesday at the moment, so we did it strategically to try and increase our handle naturally,” explained Todd. “So if Monday and Tuesday don’t work, we will move it and try to find the best days that will gives us the most income.”
Although the racing industry is starting earlier, the racing associations remain at an impasse when it comes to receiving COVID funding from the B.C. provincial government.
“The government so far has not been a help. They turned us down for a large sum of money, but we are not giving up yet,” said a resolute Todd.
A prominent horseman on the B.C. circuit, Todd founded the ownership group North American Thoroughbred Horse Company in 2007 also owns the Derby Bar and Grill, which provides various racing industry updates on their website. On April 7, a letter from the B.C. government was posted that detailed the requests that various racing associations had made in light of the 2021 racing season.
The Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA) and Harness Racing BC had jointly requested $11 million in provincial funding to support a full 2021 race season. The letter also notes a separate request for a three-year grant of $375,000 a year to assist with stabilizing thoroughbred breeding as well as a PST exemption request for horse sales.
Why were they denied funding? The government didn’t explicitly say, only providing the following statement: “This decision is not a reflection on the value of your industry to British Columbia. Government has received requests to support industries across the province and has had to establish priorities and make difficult choices.”
Regardless of the difficult discussions with government, Todd notes they will keep trying. “We are going to explore every avenue that we can find.”
In light of the pandemic, another financial hardship the B.C. racing industry has to bear is the inability to capitalize on certain areas of revenue. “Most of our money comes from casinos, but the casinos aren’t open here… Hopefully they are going to open sometime, but it’s not going to happen for a while, that’s for sure.”
Yet despite all the doom and gloom, Todd has pressed forward with his own racing operation. “I’ve actually expanded my breeding side; I’m now an owner of a large farm in Kentucky.”
Todd currently has 17 broodmares, several yearlings and several weanlings on the ground in Midway, KY.
“I bought the place in January just a couple of months before we got shut down. But I’ve moved forward rather than gone back, hoping there is going to be some sense of normalcy soon, or sooner than later.”
Although Todd continues to expand his own business, the breeding stats from CTHS suggest a slightly less optimistic overview of the industry. In 2019, 64 yearlings were sold with a total sale earnings of $1,065,500. Meanwhile, in 2020, only 48 yearlings sold, for a total sale earnings of $638,600. Todd was one of the top buyers at last year’s sale, which included the purchase of a $39,000 yearling filly by Oxbow as well as a $22,000 yearling filly by Cairo Prince.
A seasoned horsemen, Todd was also the top owner and trainer at last year’s meet. Some of his best earners from last year include Northern Graystar, Five Star General and Miss Prospector. In August, Miss Prospector ran away with the BC Cup Hong Kong Jockey Club stakes. Although Todd also runs horses south of the border, he notes that Hastings will have a good representation of his runners.
“I’ve brought 13 more in this last week out of the U.S. to boost up my own operation at Hastings. I plan on headquartering here. I live here. I love going to the races, I love watching my horses run, that’s why I’ve been in it for so long. I’ve got horses at Oaklawn Park and Phoenix but my base is here in Vancouver and I want to support the local industry. So I’m going to stay as close to home as I can this year.”
In terms of the current horse population at the track, there are almost 400 horses on site. Last year, Hastings was home to around 450 horses.
As the season approaches, more horses ship in and momentum builds for another exciting racing season, Todd remains steadfast about his business and the future of B.C.’s racing industry.
“I’m looking at it like we are going to get out of this mess and move forward. I’m operating my business like maybe by this time next year we are going to be back full-tilt. That’s what I’m hoping for.”