It took almost a decade to get them running again near Calgary, but thoroughbred racing is back.
"It is the Kentucky Derby-style racing, so everybody is familiar with that," said Paul Ryneveld, general manager of Century Downs Racetrack and Casino, which is hosting the races. "At least they know what the Kentucky Derby is."
Ryneveld said thoroughbred races are held in high regard in the racing community and he hopes the return of the event will help put Calgary back on the map.
"When you're a new facility, and not really the largest facility in the world, it takes things like this to take you to the forefront — particularly in North America," Ryneveld said, adding Edmonton's facility is a little bigger, but the size of the racetrack is comparable.
Horse races in Calgary, held at Stampede Park, came to a halt in 2008, but plans for the new racetrack began back in 2004 when United Horsemen of Alberta (UHA) was granted a licence to build a facility.
Construction was delayed and Ryneveld said the project, originally billed at $24 million, cost "over the $30 million mark" to complete.
Located near CrossIron Mills, Century Downs opened its doors in April, 2015, and features 550 slot machines and a five-and-a-half furlong oval for standardbred, thoroughbred and quarter horse racing.
'If you don't win races, you can't break even'
Craig Smith owns or shares ownership with a number of race horses, including Sheep River Bear, which won its fist race on Saturday.
Smith said notching a win on the first day of thoroughbred races at Century Downs is a sign of "bigger and better things to come."
"If you don't win races, you can't break even in this business. And honestly, a good year in horse racing is breaking even," Smith said.
"I mean, I grew up in Sundre, so being back in southern Alberta, racing here, seeing people I know … it means a lot and we're really happy to be back here."
Back in the saddle
Marilyn Bebee, who was out to see the thoroughbreds on Saturday with her daughter Jenn Cooper and granddaughter Kylie Cooper, said she used to watch the horses races in Calgary.
"I didn't think it was ever going to come back and I'm glad it did," she said. "It gives us something to do, an outing as a family."
Jenn Bebee said going to the races doesn't have to break the bank if you don't want it to.
"It's free to get in, you don't have to bet if you don't want to," she said. "And you could just come here and sit and play all day for free."
Until Nov. 5, Century Downs will hold eight thoroughbred races every Saturday and Sunday, starting at 12:50 p.m.
"Eight races is probably going to be the standard for this fall meet," Ryneveld said. "A lot of the horses have raced throughout the summer and now they're taking a break, or they're looking to head south. They're going to go to Phoenix for the winter."
As for Smith and Sheep River Bear, they're preparing for the next race.
"He'll race back in two or three weeks, and he'll just try a little tougher competition and see how he lands there," Smith said. "So next time he'll face horses that have won one race, but not won two."
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