Northlands racetrack will reach the finish line in August
'It's like an ugly divorce,' says Kathy Butkovic, equine sport therapist
It's the homestretch for the horse track at Northlands Park in Edmonton, and the race to finish line is much shorter than expected.
"Having something like this happen so abruptly, with no plan, it's like an ugly divorce," said Kathy Butkovic, an equine sport therapist who lives in the Highlands neighbourhood.
Cash-strapped, Northlands, the non-profit organization that operates the track, has announced ambitious redevelopment plans. After more than 100 years of being in operation, the track will be scrapped in favour of a huge outdoor festival space.
Even though the racing season usually runs well into October, the site will be closed at the end of August. Loss of the storied track is a huge blow, and the speed at which it's being decommissioned is staggering, Butkovic said.
"I feel like, as one of Northlands's oldest tenants, they would have given us more time to figure out where to go."
It's a sentiment echoed by Michelle Brewster, a thoroughbred horse breeder based in Bowden, who would like to see Northlands salvage the season, in its entirety.
"Stunned disbelief. We had no idea that this was going to happen in such a short period of time. They could have at least finished out the year for us."
Horse Racing Alberta has said they will explore options for a new track in the Edmonton area, but with no clear plan in place, Brewster says breeders and trainers are growing concerned about the future of the industry.
"You can't just stop. Our horses are in training. Is this all for naught? A lot of money and time has gone into this."
With Edmonton's track closing, options for competitors are limited. Tracks in Grande Prairie and Lethbridge are similar, but Brewster says capacity is limited, and they can't attract the same investment or big, high-betting crowds.
"They're both perfectly fine tracks … but adding a thousand more horses to their business in August? I don't know how they would deal with that."
Brewster says job losses and lost investment are inevitable, and damage to the industry will only be aggravated by the current economic downturn.
"People need to understand, racing matters," Brewster said.
"We have over 7,100 horses, and 7,000 people that care for those horses in Alberta. It is a powerful industry, and to be treated this way is just highly unfair."