Rideau Carleton Raceway’s Race Manager Peter Andrusek talked with Brian Perkin of Lake 88.1FM about the state of the Ottawa track in Ontario’s third shut down as well as the obstacles the industry will have to overcome.
In the interview, Andrusek aired his grievance with the province for its prohibition of harness racing despite the competition taking place outdoors and the track not having a single case of coronavirus traced to its facility. Though racing is halted with the stay-at-home order, horses are still currently allowed to train at the track.
“We raced over 70 live cards during this pandemic, not to mention qualifiers and training, and we have not had one incident of Covid that was traced to our facility,” Andrusek said. “Not a sniff. That was not a coincidence. Racing is an outdoor activity, and is done under a very strict regime of protocols. So, what is the difference between racing, which is now prohibited, and training horses, which is permitted? Of course its permitted. Horses are not cars, [you] can’t put horses in the stalls, turn off the lights and tell us when you’re racing again. Well, I’m going to tell you what the difference is: two minutes. Because I can tell you right now, if you went to Rideau Carleton Raceway—which you can’t by the way—but if you did go to Rideau Carleton Raceway, our track has got a whole heap of horses training on there as we speak. So it’s profoundly disappointing that the proper consideration has not been granted as an industry continues to try.”
This shutdown, the third in the province, marks only the second time racing had to stop at Rideau Carleton. The track went dark along with most of continent back in March when the coronavirus cases first surged, but managed to resume racing by June with the implementation of stringent Covid protocols. In the track’s time back racing, it saw improving handle and attention that—with the latest shutdown—will be difficult to regain.
“I think our program has been kicked in the gut and we’ve lost about three years,” Andrusek said. “We have generated tremendous momentum with our program in terms of securing TV spots and simulcast spots. Now that we’re not racing, now there’s a vacuum. And with the United States wide open, those simulcast spots that we worked so hard to secure, they’re being occupied by U.S. tracks who, by the way, aren’t just going to give them up once Rideau Carleton Raceway resumes racing. So now we have to go back to the chalk board and we’re going to have to secure all those spots back. And that’s going to be a process, and it may take years to get us back to where we were a year ago.”
Alongside the loss of momentum, Andrusek also talked about the hit the horsepeople of the province have taken as well as the horse owners who, like many Ontario horsepeople already, may move their horses to the States.
“It is a very large industry,” Andrusek said. “I believe there are over 40,000 people in this province alone that tie their living to this industry—that, beginning with this third shutdown which has been going on a month now, has had no means of revenue. And what you’ve got to understand here is that these horses are not pets, they’re investment. And right now, these owners are not generating any revenue. Now, the big difference between what’s happening now than what happened a year ago is a year ago, the entire continent was shut down. This time around, the United States is wide open. Every track in the United States is not only open, but they’re throwing out the red carpet to lure our horses into their jurisdictions. If you’re an owner, and these horses are good to race—the prime of their racing is from two years [old] to six or seven years, you’ve got to generate a bulk of your revenue at that time. Not to mention the costs you’re incurring to care for the horses and maintain them. So it’s very compelling for an owner right now to take their stable of horses and just move them out to the United States.
“And premier tracks like Woodbine and Mohawk, that’s happening,” Andrusek also said. “Their industry is in real trouble because those owners have significant investments in the horses. Us, Rideau Carleton Raceway? At this time, we’ve been able to—for the most part—retain our supply of horses. Our guys are holding on, for how much longer I don’t know because there’s so much uncertainty when we will start up. But there is another problem, and that other problem is, while we’re retaining the bulk [of] our roster of horses, nobody is investing; nobody is buying right now. In June, we’re scheduled to go from one day a week to two days a week. So if nobody’s buying horses, well what am I going to do in June when we’ve got to feed two race cards of races? So in that respect, we’re getting in real trouble here.”
Andrusek’s full interview on 88.1FM is available below: