The consortium alleges Woodbine has worked to monopolize the horse racing industry in Ontario and believes the Toronto track has intentionally exacerbated tensions with Fort Erie and its partners. Photo credit: Facebook/Fort Erie Race Track
Attempts to resolve a long-standing dispute between Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium (FELRC) and Woodbine Entertainment regarding the shipping of horses between the two tracks reached a breaking point this week.
FELRC has filed a grievance with the Canadian Trade Commission, seeking restitution from a policy it believes has been directly harmful to the Town of Fort Erie, as well as the horse industry at large.
“Woodbine holds a near monopoly in our industry,” Jim Thibert, Chief Executive Officer of FELRC, shared in a recent public statement. “Woodbine’s practices towards Fort Erie are unfair and clearly predatorial.”
FELRC believes that Woodbine has been intentionally exacerbating tensions with the race track and its small business partners. “While this situation is particularly harmful for the continued existence of racing in Fort Erie, it is genuinely harmful for the owners, trainers, jockeys and others employed directly in racing and indirectly in services to the thoroughbred racing industry in Ontario,” Thibert argued.
In addition to enacting controversial restrictions on the trade of horses, Woodbine is also the subject of intense scrutiny for refusing to endorse a return to the pre-pandemic schedule for the Canadian Triple Crown.
“Traditionally, the three races were held consecutively in June, July, then August,” FELRC stated earlier this week. “However, during the COVID crisis, certain restrictions necessitated moving the first jewel of the crown, the King’s Plate, to later in the summer. This pushed Fort Erie’s signature race, the Prince of Wales Stakes, out of the summer tourism season and into September.”
“The Fort Erie Race Track was accommodating during the COVID crisis and moved their Triple Crown race down the calendar,” the statement continued, “but the pandemic is behind us now and Woodbine should be moving the King’s Plate back to June in order to let the Prince of Wales Stakes move back to July.”
The actions of Woodbine have drawn criticism not only from FELRC, but also from municipal government leaders.
“The operation of stocks at the race track in Fort Erie carries with it immense economic benefit for the town economy through the creation of good jobs,” Mayor Wayne Redekop shared in a recent sit-down with The Niagara Independent. “And it is not only those who maintain the stocks themselves who are employed, but also think about those who train the horses, feed the horses, and provide all the related services.”
“The Prince of Wales Stakes has a long tradition of being one of the biggest summertime tourist attractions in our town,” Councillor George McDermott added.
According to McDermott, hosting the event “after Labour Day, when the key summer tourism season is over, does not allow Fort Erie to meet its maximum potential for such a historic and esteemed event.”
The Niagara Independent reached out to Woodbine directly for comment.
“The assertions made by Fort Erie Race Track are baseless and without merit and we will vigorously and confidently defend ourselves if requested by the Canadian Trade Commission or any other regulatory authority,” Director of Communications for Woodbine Entertainment Jamie Dykstra said in response to FELRC’s claims.
“We are very proud of the vital role we play in supporting the strength, success and growth of the Ontario horse racing industry. We are very much looking forward to starting our 2023 meet this Saturday. We will have no further comment on this matter at this time.”
Nick Redekop completed his Honours Bachelor of Arts Degree in Labour Studies at Brock University. He has previously served in municipal and federal politics. In his free time, Nick enjoys following sports, taking part in outdoor activities, and reading biographies. Nick resides in Niagara Falls