Horse racing season kicks off at Dresden raceway, as Ontario sees shortage of horses
7 races held Monday, kicking off first full season since start of COVID-19 pandemic
Horses, jockeys and fans were welcomed back to the track on Monday as Dresden Raceway kicked off its 2022 racing season.
Seven races were held on Monday, and while some races were held in-person in 2021, this year mark's the raceway's first full season since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I'm excited for the first full season coming back," said Darrin Canniff, mayor of Chatham-Kent, who took in Monday's races. "It's an amazing facility here."
"It's a tradition here," he said. "I want to continue this tradition here in Dresden."
Julien Robinson, who grew up in Dresden, has been coming to the races for decades.
"It's just been something that's always been part of summer memories as a child growing up here in Dresden," he said. "It certainly has changed over the years."
Robinson said the 2021 season was tough due to the lack of racing.
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But, he said, Monday was the "same feeling" as previous years.
"You come back to the track these first opening days, and you still get that Dresden Raceway smell," said Robinson. "It all comes back to you."
The track is a "great thing" for the community, he said.
"It's something you can do with your family," he said. "You don't got to come spend a lot of money, it's just a great atmosphere."
Track announcer Gary Patterson said horse racing has a long history in Dresden.
"We've been racing here live at this location since the '60s, but we've been racing in Dresden for well over 100 years," he said. "Opening day at Dresden Raceway is always a big thing."
Patterson said fans weren't allowed to watch the races at Dresden for most of the 2021 season due to the pandemic, although some were permitted for the final few races.
But there are some challenges facing Ontario's horse racing industry, Patterson said, with a shortage of horses in the province.
"The shortage of horses has been back since about 2012," he said, adding it was caused by the provincial cancellation of a planned slot machine revenue-sharing program.
"A lot of people got out of the business," Patterson said.
The horse shortage, coupled with the number of other races happening Monday, affected opening day at Dresden forcing a reduction in the number of races that took place to seven.
"Today, we would normally have 80 to 90 horses in the box," he said. "We had 45 horses in the box."
He said in 2011, there were 11,000 race horses in Ontario. Today, there are about 4,000.
This season will include 11 days of racing at Dresden, with events running through to August, Patterson said.
With files from Jacob Barker