Winnipeg's Assiniboia Downs is in trouble, and the Red River Ex wants to save it.
Garth Rogerson, CEO of the Red River Exhibition Association, said the Manitoba government has told him there will be deep funding cuts to the horse-racing track in the province's budget this spring.
He said the Downs is already losing money and a cut to its $9.5 million annual grant from the province could mean the end of the longtime venue.
"I'm very concerned," he said.
"When these budget cuts come down, I know for sure harness racing will be bankrupt. Harness racing will be finished in the province. And I'm pretty sure Assiniboia Downs will be bankrupt."
'When these budget cuts come down …harness racing will be bankrupt.' —Garth Rogerson, Red River Ex
Rogerson said it makes sense for the Ex to take over the Downs and turn it into an entertainment centre with horse racing, concerts and other big events such as monster truck shows.
Rogerson said those events could make up for the loss in grant money.
"What we're trying to do is we're trying to come in and save it, right?" he said.
"There's another way of looking at it. You don't need to go bankrupt and the government doesn't need to put more money into it. We can save the taxpayers $5 million a year and operate it successfully."
Rogerson said the Ex would also invest in some of Manitoba's six rural tracks as well.
Manitoba Jockey Club shocked
However, the group that owns Assiniboia Downs was shocked.
Manitoba Jockey Club president Harvey Warner said he has been blindsided by news the province is cutting its grant, or that the Ex was interested taking over the Downs.
'We've been totally out of the loop.' —Harvey Warner, Manitoba Jockey Club
"It certainly was a shock since there's been no communication as far as any impending proposed changes," he said.
"Nobody's indicated anything (about that) to us," he said.
Warner admits the number of racing days at the Downs has dropped over the last decade from 100 days to 60.
He said the club, which has been operating the Downs for years with the help of provincial grants, has been working on its own plans to team up with other groups in order to keep the facility viable.
"We've been totally out of the loop," Warner said. "Our plans have been made, our budgets have been approved."
Warner said club officials will meet with Finance Minister Stan Struthers on Thursday to voice their concerns over the plan.
Province backs plan
Meanwhile, Struthers said he supports the Red River Ex's plan to revitalize Assiniboia Downs.
"This kind of creative thinking really fits the bill for us," he said.
Struthers said the plan would reduce the province's expenses and ensure long term contributions to the provincial economy.
A provincial government spokesperson said no final budget decisions have been made on the Downs' grant, but a major cut to its $9.5 million grant is planned.
Struthers said the province is facing tough financial challenges, and the Ex will need to "lead the charge" to formalize its plan to revitalize the horse track.
"We've been very clear that in a tough year in terms of budgeting that we are open to creative solutions, and this is one of those examples," said Struthers.
The Selinger government also plans to cut the $500,000 grant to rural harness racing, but the spokesperson said the government hopes rural harness racing will continue and be relocated to the Downs.