As Kawartha Downs concludes its 2020 season of harness racing on Saturday (Sept. 26) the track’s President is confident that racing will return to the Peterborough-area oval in 2021.
Kawartha Downs was one of two tracks, along with Hiawatha Horse Park, that signed two-year funding agreements with Ontario Racing (OR) in 2018. Despite all the hardships that accompanied any business in 2020 through the COVID-19 pandemic, Kawartha’s president Richard Weldon feels the track is in a good position to negotiate a new deal with OR for 2021 and beyond.
“We’re at an early stage of discussions to keep going,” Weldon told the Peterborough Examiner. “We’re pretty confident but we don’t have anything concrete.”
On Monday, Great Canadian Gaming will reopen the Shorelines Slots at Kawartha Downs. Weldon takes the reopening of the facility that’s been closed since March due to the coronavirus as a positive sign.
“It was very important for the racing community to continue this year so for them to stop with the smaller tracks would be a huge mistake and I think the province knows that,” said Weldon. “I think they have other priorities given the COVID health crisis but I think it’s something we’re certainly going to be discussing over the next weeks and months. I don’t think it makes any sense to stop it. A lot of the province’s horse racing industry depends on it.”
Before the calendar flipped to 2020, Kawartha Downs was one of the province’s racetracks that sported the majority of its handle from on-track patrons and would often surpass $30,000 in handle. When the track resumed racing in 2020 and relied solely on simulcast and online wagering, that number dipped to the $13-$18,000 range but rose to between $20,000 and $27,000 once the province eased public gathering restrictions to allow up to 100 patrons.
“We were pleasantly surprised,” stated Weldon. “It shows the support we have with such a small number of people.”
Weldon also noted that the short-term deal with Ontario Racing handcuffed long-term planning and the track is considering “a whole bunch of different options” to make it a year-round destination venue.