Northlands horse racing season ends in uncertainty
'It's a big loss'
Fans and workers at Northlands racetrack closed the 2016 thoroughbred racing season Saturday wondering if it was their last.
In a move described as an "ugly divorce," Northlands abruptly announced in March the racetrack would close after the 2016 season. The cash-strapped, non-profit organization that runs the facility said the track would be replaced by a large, outdoor concert venue in a bold, expensive plan to reinvent itself.
"These are family to us," said Northlands director of racing and gaming, Scott Sinclair, who called his feelings on the track's potential last day "bittersweet."
He described how jockeys, owners, and fans have flocked to the Northlands race track for more than 65 years for thoroughbred horse racing.
"If it were the last day, it would be very, very devastating to them and for race fans," he said.
Sinclair said Northlands is currently in negotiations with Horse Racing Alberta, a private, not-for-profit corporation, to look for ways to keep the sport going in 2017.
In 2018, a new $50-million horse racing facility will open near the Edmonton International Airport.
Called Century Mile, the new track will be the first one-mile track in western Canada (and nearly twice the size of Edmonton Northlands' 5/8-mile track).
Those who work in the horse racing industry in Edmonton worry good talent may leave the province, if there is nowhere to race in the city in 2017.
"It's a big loss," said Dr. Steve Smith. He is a veterinarian at Northlands track, and his family has raced horses there for four generations.
"If we don't have anywhere to race, it's difficult."
Sinclair said he expects to make an announcement either way in the next few weeks.
with files from Emily Fitzpatrick