The future of Alberta Downs, Lacombe’s local horseracing track, is still up in the air according to owner/operator Bob Allen.
For the past six years, the one-mile oval located just outside Lacombe along Hwy. 2, has supplied the harness racing industry with a place to race and train and acted as a venue for fans to watch quality racing.
That all changed this past November, shortly after the racing season wrapped up, when Allen was contacted by Horse Racing Alberta (HRA), the branch of the Alberta Government that governs horseracing within the province, and was presented with a letter stating Alberta Downs would not be given any race dates for the 2015 season.
Allen said he was initially shocked by the decision, especially because he was previously given draft dates from the HRA.
“It kind of took the wind out of my sails,” he said. “It’s really disappointing.”
Over the past two months, Allen has pursued an appeal, legally requesting the dates previously given to him to be re-instated.
The HRA responded to Allen’s appeal, stating that if he met the required conditions, they would consider reinstating the dates.
The conditions that Alberta Downs must meet involve showing required engineer reports, fire safety specifications and ensuring the facility as a whole is up to code.
This past year, Alberta Downs had some financial difficulties where Allen had to make $500,000 worth of safety upgrades to the facility in order to run and also paid $420,000 to Lacombe County for the paving of the road leading up to the race track.
On Jan. 29th, Allen said he had just sent a letter back to the HRA, agreeing to meet their listed conditions.
“They never made a commitment, but they seemed receptive,” he said in regards to the second letter he received from the HRA.
Harness racing in Edmonton just ended for the season at the end of January and now most of the horseracing industry is left with no place to go, said Allen.
Many horse trainers, owners and racers within the province now have to find other venues to house and train their animals, without being able to access Alberta Downs.
“A lot of them do not have a farm or a place to go,” he said. “It really is a downturn in the race business.”
Allen noted that the newly constructed racing facility in Calgary, Century Downs, does not have barns, so many within the industry are left in the lurch for a place to house their horses.
“I’ve received many phone calls in desperation,” he said. “It’s bad for me, it’s bad for the fans and it’s bad for the horsemen.”
Allen firmly believes he will have all of the issues identified by the HRA solved before the usually scheduled race time in May, but the decision regarding reinstating the dates remains solely on the HRA.
The HRA was not available for comment at the time of publication.