If you haven’t heard the news, the Manitoba NDP Government is waging an ugly war on the Manitoba Jockey Club, the entity that owns and operates the Assiniboia Downs Race Track. (ASD)
If you believe Finance Minister Stan Struthers it’s all about “uncertain economic times” and the need for the Government to put more money into health care. In his defense of the controversial move to pull the financial plug on the Downs, Struthers tells us it’s all about “Hospitals over horses.”
(Similar justification was used to pitch the pending 1% GST hike Manitoban’s are finding difficult to swallow.)
If you believe Winnipeg Sun Investigative Journalist Tom Brodbeck it’s all about dirty Politics. It seems the Board of Directors of the Jockey Club is staffed by a large number of Progressive Conservative supporters and contributors who are not so popular with the ruling party. Brodbeck points to the NDP Governments deal with True North Sports & Entertainment Ltd as evidence that supports of the vendetta theory. According to Mr Brodbeck, it seems the “not so transparent” NDP Government puts Hockey in Manitoba before both Hospitals and Horses.
By pulling the plug on VLT revenues, the NDP Government is essentially destroying the ability of the Jockey Club to finance its operations and fund the purses that attract Horsemen to Assiniboia Downs. In 2011 -2012, ASD paid out $3,912,574 in purses.
(Note; the Manitoba Jockey Club is a not for profit Organization.)
Lost in all of this is the “real” impact sure to be felt by people who earn a living as a result of the existence of the Horse Racing Industry in the Province of Manitoba. People like the two hundred (200) plus worker bees directly employed by the Downs. But it goes deeper than that, much deeper.
The Horse Racing Industry employs hundreds of people in other obvious and not so obvious areas. In 2011-2012 the Manitoba Horse Racing Commission issued the following occupational licenses:
- Owner / Trainers – 73
- Trainers – 30
- Assistant Trainer – 7
- Jockey – 24
- Exercise Riders – 48
- Jockey Agents – 8
- Officials – 8
- Back Stretch Workers (Grooms et al) – 143
- Veterinarians – 5
- Veterinarian Assistants – 5
- Occ 1 Assoc / Kitchen etc – 43
- Occ 2 Day Care / Press etc – 90
- Occ 3 Tradesmen etc – 21
Total licenses issued – 504
(Source; MHRC – 2011 – 2012 Annual Report)
Each license represents a real human being who is trying to make a living in an ever demanding industry. The Downs also provides a small business opportunity for the Tack Shop, owned & operated by retired WPS member Frank Johnson.
The not so obvious industries effected by the death of horse racing will be Manitoba Farmers & business who rely on income earned as a result of the sale of horse feed, supplements & straw;
- Hay – $5.50 per bail
- Straw – $3-$4 per bale
- Wood shavings for bedding – $8.75 per bag
- Oats – $20 per 100 pound bag
- Sweet Feed – $20 per 50-pound bag
- Assorted minerals, vitamins & supplements.
This season, there are approximately six hundred & fifty (650) Thoroughbred Race Horses competing at ASD. On an average day each racehorse consumes or may require;
- 1/3 of a bail hay
- 2 gallons of oats
- ½ gallon of sweet feed
- Minerals, vitamins & supplements
- 1 bail straw or shavings for bedding
- Assorted medications
- Farrier services – horseshoe maintenance
- Veterinarian services
One Trainer / Owner I spoke to estimated costs associated to running their twenty-four (24) horse stable runs at approximately $10,000 per month. With that kind of overhead, you need to find your way to the winner’s circle several times a month to turn any kind of profit.
(Lest we forget, our Government reaps significant benefits from tax dollars collected from income earned and the thousands of dollars the Horse Racing Industry injects into the Province ie: gas, food, beverage, tobacco, accommodations, clothing, equipment et al.)
In the late 1970’s I worked at ASD as a groom earing $200 for a seven-day workweek that started at 5:00 am sharp and sometimes ended after midnight on race days. Although the wages have gone up since then, now somewhere around $500 per seven-day week, the job essentially remains the same. Early morning starts and plenty of 12 – 18 hour days.
Grooms at ASD muck stalls, stack bails, rake shed rows, bathe and tack horses, carry water buckets and wrestle with extremely dangerous high-strung quadrupeds that demand constant vigilance to avoid powerful teeth and lightning fast hooves. The typical groom is a late teen or early twenty something that needs a job, has a love of horses and possesses a strong work ethic.
It’s a tough way to make a living for everyone involved in the “sport of kings,” – Trainers, Jockeys, Agents, Grooms, Gate Crew, Valets and everyone else who relies on the Horse Racing Industry to put food on the table.
The years I worked at ASD provided me with quality material and references for my resume when I applied for employment with the Winnipeg Police Service. I was told it was my work ethic and solid employment history that set me apart from other applicants.
Whether it’s addiction to gambling revenue, as some suspect, or just plain old dirty politics, the people I spoke to in the back stretch at ASD struggle to understand why they’ve become targets of a Government that appears to be hell-bent on destroying the Horse Racing Industry and all the “little people” who rely on it to make a living.
According to Mr Brodbeck, “The NDP is willing to put those jobs and the financial future of those families in jeopardy — who have done nothing to deserve this — based purely on a political vendetta against a Tory-dominated MJC board. That’s really pathetic.”
Pathetic to be sure.
WINNIPEG SUN TOM BRODBECK – “Manitoba Jockey Club Spat Really Just NDP Political Vendetta.”