Harness racing at Leamington Raceway is seen in this 2017 file photo.
Dax Melmer / Windsor Star
The Lakeshore Horse Racing Association will see a $9,000 bump in race-day purses for the 2019 season after reaching a two-year agreement with the industry’s new governing body.The increase means each of the 13 days of action at Leamington Raceway this summer will feature a total purse of $44,000.Ontario Racing received an additional $2.4 million for 2019 from the Minister of Finance and earmarked some of that to purses for the province’s six smaller, grassroots tracks.“I guess it’s kind of a signing bonus,” said Mark Williams, a director for the LHRA.Members of the LHRA reluctantly joined Ontario Racing just hours before a government-imposed deadline of March 31.Local horsemen expressed concern about the future of Leamington and other grassroots raceways under a group they say is controlled by Woodbine Entertainment Group in Toronto.“We needed to sign on to continue racing and we did but it was nothing we were overwhelmingly happy about,” Williams said.LHRA member Tom Bain said the group joined Ontario Racing in order to protect 2,000 direct and indirect jobs in the industry locally.“We were able to pick up more money so we’re pleased to see that,” Bain said. “But we lost any decision making and power. It’s all out of Toronto now.”Ontario Racing’s Katherine Curry welcomed Leamington, Hiawatha Horse Park in Sarnia and Kawartha Downs in Fraserville into the fold in a media release last month.“We look forward to working with all three tracks in creating and sustaining a vibrant and financially sound racing industry,” Curry said. “A thriving, vibrant horse racing industry is a key pillar in the economic success of Ontario, particularly in rural areas of the province.”Related
Bain said the LHRA continues to negotiate with Ontario Racing for facility upgrades.“They did a deal with some of the other tracks to update their facilities,” Bain said. “Our washrooms need work and the grandstand needs paint and work done to it. We’ll try to work with them to get a little bit done each year.”He doesn’t expect to see any facility updates before their first Sunday race in August.Ontario Racing encouraged local associations and tracks to sign a 19-year agreement. Bain doesn’t know of any facility that agreed to that length but said Dresden committed to 10 years.Lakeshore still had two years remaining on a five-year operational contract signed with the now defunct Ontario Racing Commission.“Now we’ve got a two-year deal (with Ontario Racing) but our big fear is what’s going to happen after that,” Bain said.He noted “one big plus” for LHRA is that the per bet average at Leamington is the second highest of any standardbred track in the firstname.lastname@example.org/winstarcaton