About a half-dozen horse trailers were parked in front of Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci's office Friday morning. Members of the racing community brought their horses downtown to protest against the Ontario Lottery and Gaming announcement that it will end its slot machine contract with racetracks — including Sudbury Downs.
They said, if the decision stands, the horse racing industry will die — and so too will many of the horses that are now a part of horse racing in the province.
Some horses will be sent to slaughter if racing stops, the horsemen say.
Paul MacLean, who owns a stable in Chelmsford, moved to Sudbury from Cape Breton because the horse racing industry seemed to be stronger.
Now, with the recent OLG decision, he said he will probably leave Sudbury if the track closes.
Raising a 'ruckus'
MacLean owns about 15 horses, worth about 100,000 in total. He said there are about 29,000 race horses in Ontario
"We are trying to raise a bit of ruckus here," MacLean said during the downtown protest. "We want answers and we aren't getting any. We've got to raise awareness about what is going on."
The thought of getting rid of the horses was troubling for MacLean.
"I've been with horses since day one," he said.
"It hasn't even sunk in yet what I will do with them. My wife and I, we don't believe in slaughter houses. We will give them away … but the fact is we will be giving away $100,000 worth of horses we have invested in [and] in the barn. In all likelihood the rest of the people can't afford to do that and [the horses] will be going to slaughter houses."
So far, the fate of the slots at Sudbury Downs has not been made public.
Worried racetrack will close
The owners of Sudbury Downs said they haven't heard from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, and the director of operations said he's worried that the racetrack could close. Andrew MacIsaac said he's trying to keep a level head, despite the uncertainty.
"We're still aiming for a April 21 start to our live race season and we plan to open the track here at Sudbury Downs March 21 for training," MacIsaac said.
But while the track prepares for its 38th season, the horse racers are worried.
Horse owner and former Sudbury mayor John Rodriguez said if the money isn't there, he won't be racing.
"You can't race for a small amount of money when it costs a lot to keep your horse," Rodriguez said. "Why would I do that? I'd get right out … of course."
MacIsaac was reluctant to speak on the record about it, but he said he's not sure the track would continue to exist without the lottery corporation funds.
MacIsaac said the announcement this week came as a surprise and he hopes more details will be forthcoming from the OLG.
Sudbury city councillor Claude Berthiaume said he isn't waiting for a call from the OLG, and that he's taking action now.
He said if OLG severs its ties with Sudbury Downs, the track will be in jeopardy.
"If that would happen, he would probably have to shut down Sudbury Downs and would not be able to continue," Berthiaume said.
The councillor has met with Sudbury Downs, and the horse racing community, and a delegation is expected to meet with Sudbury City Council on the issue next week.
The OLG said it’s pulling slots out of racetracks in Windsor, Fort Erie and Sarnia immediately.