April 27, 2014 9:02 pm

Hastings Racecourse looks to rebuild amid industry challenges

As the 125th season of Hastings Racecourse kicked off Sunday, fans flooded the track for opening day, but this year presents unique challenges for those involved in the changing industry.

Just four years ago, the track hosted 71 race days. This year, there will only be 51 due to decreasing revenues and fewer horses.

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“In the 1980s we were racing 150 days a year,” said trainer Craig MacPherson. “You have to feed the horses, feed yourself… so there’s less opportunity to regain that money or gain that money back for a lot of us.”

MacPherson said many owners and their horses have left the industry because they can’t afford to continue.

Across North America, tracks have struggled against declines in revenue and attendance. Some tracks, such as the famed Hollywood Park, have even shut their doors for good.

“We need to find a way to generate more revenue to attract those people back again,” he said.

The staff at Hastings Racecourse are planning to focus on rebuilding the track’s popularity by attracting younger crowds.

Teaching a younger generation about jockeys, horses and engaging them in the sometimes confusing sport will be key to increasing revenues, according to owners.

Another superstar jockey would also help peak attendance.

In 2012, wagering on live races at the track actually went up more than seven per cent, thanks in part to local superstar jockey Mario Gutierrez winning both the Preakness and the Kentucky Derby.

Staff are hoping another superstar will attract bigger crowds in the future.

Horse racing contributes $5.7 billion dollars to the Canadian economy annually and provides 3,600 full time jobs in B.C.

With files from Tanya Beja

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