There was no joking involved on April Fool’s Day when southern Alberta race fans and the public attended the grand opening of the Racing Entertainment Center of the Century Downs Racetrack and Casino project.

The Calgary area has been without an A track racing venue since Stampede Park closed in 2008, leaving racing at Northlands Park three hours north in Edmonton.

The partnership of The United Horsemen of Alberta and Century Casinos Inc. has provided the necessary funding to move forward with the racetrack project. The official sod turning ceremony took place on Dec. 4, 2013 at Century Casinos and the long awaited track is now nearly complete after commencing construction in the spring of 2014.

The public invitation on April 1 was to get a first look at the brand new casino complex which features 550 gaming machines, electronic gaming tables, an off track betting room, a restaurant and lounge area, as well as meeting and event space.

Qualifying races were held in early April and the first official day of standardbred racing took place on April 25.

Century Downs has been busy filling key positions throughout the spring. It has been confirmed that the new racing secretary will be Jackson Wittup who was the race secretary at Stampede Park for 25 years until the doors closed in 2008. Wittup moved back to Alberta from a position as executive director of Harness Racing B.C. to write the first race at Century Downs.

Thoroughbred race fans are looking forward to next season when live thoroughbred racing will commence at Century Downs. The fully finished project will feature a 5 ½ furlong oval for standardbred, thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing with two chutes (7.5 furlong and 4 furlong) for the thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses. Century Downs will have live races Saturdays, Sundays and holidays and Friday evenings in the summer months for a minimum of a 100 days of live racing each year as required by a Class A track.

Century Downs general manager Paul Ryneveld reported to Standardbred Canada that “Originally, we were going to be ship in only, but we have since modified plans with both our standardbred and thoroughbred partners to provide stabling and training. The barn area will be a work in progress as we increase stall capacity over the next two years.

“The commitment of the original United Horsemen of Alberta (UHA) must be acknowledged for keeping this project going when it appeared lost. Century Casinos’ arrival ensured that the project would be completed. When the first race takes place in 2015, there will be a lot of people to recognize and thank. I think the thing to be most proud of is the finished product – a modern, right sized facility, where horse racing and gaming can grow together.”

Century Casinos announced on March 23 that it now owns 75 per cent of United Horsemen of Alberta, the company developing the Century Downs Racetrack and Casino. This satisfies a condition of licensing imposed by the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) and allows Century to fully manage the development and operation of the Century Downs Racetrack and Casino project.