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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.”

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  1. James G Jewell


    Thanks very much for your comments…

    When it comes to justification, the Government has put it’s position out there for all…..”tough economic times” and “hospitals over horses.”

    Others believe it’s just plain old dirty politics.

    Either way, it seems to me cordial dialogue and respectable negotiations were never part of our Governments strategy for dealing with this issue. Much like the GST increase, its appears the welfare of “the people” is the furthest thing from the minds of the people pulling the strings.

    Not much of a Democracy when the Government can just change the rules to suit whatever agenda they might have.

  2. Hi James,

    there was a blogger who posted a breakdown of the funding for the MTS Centre. He mentioned that without the Credit Union agreeing to a 50 Million dollar loan, the arena would not have been built. That is aside from the government and the Crocus fund monies injected.

    He went on to mention, and I’ve seen this a few times, that without a guaranteed VLT stream of money, the Credit union, ( who’s clients were not happy about the loan in the first place )would not have been able to fork over the loan. If this is true, then we can say , taxpayers are paying the mortgage on the MTS Centre and with more VLT money, True North have been given direct access to the taxpayers pocketbooks.

    At the end of the day, gambling revenues are taxpayers revenue regardless of who is gambling their life away. Can you investigate to see if there is some other reason for this transfer.

    By the way, I love the horse races but would like to see it stand on its own, like everyone else.


  3. Shirley Hansen

    Dear Yer Pal,
    I have been involved in the horse racing industry my entire life and would invite you to come spend a day at our stable to see first hand just how cruel these beautiful animals are treated. They are fed the best quality feed available, are fit and happy. We spend as many as 18 hours a day making sure their every need is met. Yes just like any athlete they sustain injuries sometimes life threatening and at other times career ending. I have also seen this happen in pleasure riding or even just out in a pasture. Please come and see for yourself what really goes on behind the scenes.

  4. James G Jewell

    I’m not a huge horse racing fan nor do I spend a great deal of my hard earned cash betting on the races.

    Having said that, horse racing has been around for centuries and dates back to the ancient Greek Olympics in 648 BC. People in the industry will tell you that Thoroughbreds are “born to run” and would challenge your assertion regarding cruelty to the animals.

    Regardless, the point of the article is to question the “true” motivation of our Government and to raise awareness regarding the many impacts killing the industry will have on people who depend on the sport to earn a living. Is this another example of dirty politics and dishonest Government officials flexing their partisan muscle to punish their political rivals? Many people think so.

    People I spoke to in the research phase of my story asked the question, “Isn’t Government supposed to encourage employment and work for the people, not kill jobs and a well established industry?”

    I might be biased but I personally don’t approve of the seemingly underhanded approach the NDP Government has taken on this issue and the issue related to the GST hike.

    Thanks for voicing your opinion…..

  5. Horse racing is a thing of the past. It’s cruel to the animals & it’s just more gambling. Let it go.

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