As the 88th Canadian Derby gets under way this weekend in Edmonton, the future of Western Canada's biggest annual thoroughbred race remains uncertain.
Northlands president Tim Reid said there is a possibility the derby will remain at Northlands Racetrack and Casino, where it has been for decades, in 2018 , due to delays in developing a new track just outside the city near Edmonton International Airport.
"The challenge for next year is that there is a lot of uncertainty," Reid said at a news conference held to kick off this year's derby. "We just received word that the track on the south side will be delayed in terms of its timing."
Named Century Mile, the new $50-million horse racing facility will be the longest racetrack in Western Canada. The track will feature 1,100 slot machines, a restaurant, lounge, and other concessions and bars, according to the developer.
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- Horses will race at Northlands until Century Mile opens in 2018
The project was expected to open in July 2018, in time for the 89th Canadian Derby, but delays have set it back until next fall. On its website, Northlands Park has been advertising that this Saturday's derby is the "final running of the Canadian Derby" at Northlands.
Century Mile Racetrack and Casino could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But in a Facebook post from Aug. 14, the organization said its team has made "great progress" during its preliminary construction phase for the new one-mile track, the biggest outside Toronto. The company has scraped off topsoil and started basic construction over the last three weeks.
The derby has been hosted at Northlands Park and Casino since 1957, after the rights to host the race were bought from Winnipeg. The last seven editions of the race in Edmonton have broken the $1-million mark in wagering, and it is considered the most prestigious race in Canada outside of the Queen's Plate at Woodbine racetrack in Toronto.
Northlands declared in 2015 that horse racing was no longer financially viable for its operations, and indicated it would forego hosting the Canadian Derby in the future.
Horse Racing Alberta, which oversees thoroughbred racing in the province, sent out a request for proposals for an alternative site. Century Casinos Inc. was announced as the winner to own, operate and build a new A- level race track in the Edmonton area.
Shirley McClellan, president of Horse Racing Alberta, said the organization will make a decision about the location of the next derby when more information becomes available, although it is planned for somewhere in Alberta, at least.
"What we're excited about now is the derby that's going to happen here on Saturday," she said Wednesday. "It's our intention that the Canadian Derby will run in Alberta next year."
Reid said the new facility should help revive horse racing in the province.
"There's some optimism in the industry that this will provide the sustainability and the certainty that the industry needs," he said. "It should be able to build horse racing back into the exceptional entertainment event that it's always been."
More information about the relocation of the 89th Canadian Derby is expected in September.