Thoroughbred racing made its triumphant return to southern Alberta this fall as Century Downs Racetrack and Casino held races throughout September and October to close out the 2017 season.
The return of thoroughbred action was thanks, in part, to 10-year agreement made in 2016 between the provincial government and Horse Racing Alberta.
“The 10-year agreement did bring quite a bit of confidence back into the industry and has solidified a future for the next decade,” said Tim Lawson, racing secretary at Century Downs. “There was quite a bit of buzz for the return of thoroughbred racing back in (the) Calgary (area).
“It’s overall a huge boost for the industry. Racing in Alberta, not only to survive but thrive in the future, needs to ensure the market remains strong in southern Alberta, which is what we’ve brought to the table in 2017.”
Lawson added there was always an intention of thoroughbred racing entering the fold at Century Downs, but the agreement expedited the process.
In order to meet regulations, Century Downs installed a paddock near the casino for horses to have reins and saddles put on prior to a race, as well as a safety rail along the inside of the track.
In addition, between 6,000 and 7,000 tons of dirt were brought in to coat the track and make it more capable of holding thoroughbred racing as opposed to the harness racing, which has been a staple at Century Downs since the track opened in 2015.
“There was a ton of stuff that needed to be put into place in order to make this go,” Lawson said. “We worked around the clock to ensure that it went smoothly.”
Although the harness racing season has been condensed to allow for thoroughbred racing at Century Downs, harness racing will remain in Balzac for the foreseeable future.
Local talent is on showcase on race day, with a large number of riders and horses from Alberta.
Lawson said the addition of thoroughbred racing will benefit the Alberta economy as local owners can get back into the sport after leaving when throughbred racing at Calgary Stampede Park closed in 2008.
“We saw a lot of interest from owners that had previously run horses at Stampede Park that left the game ultimately after Stampede shut its doors. We’re seeing interest in guys wanting to get back into the game,” Lawson said.
Alongside thoroughbred racing, the 10-year agreement encourages the expansion of the racing industry in Alberta, with Edmonton set to open the Century Mile track early in 2018, something Lawson has had a hand in building. He said a second track of this size in Alberta will not be a competitor for Century Downs, but will act more as a partner to help the two grow.
There is no set date when thoroughbred racing will start in 2018, but Lawson said Century Downs is aiming for the start of September, similar to when it started in 2017.