February 17, 2016 3:39 pm
Updated: February 17, 2016 9:40 pm

‘2016 will be our last year in the horse racing business’: Northlands

WATCH ABOVE: With the unveiling of its new vision for the future, Northlands has announced 2016 will be the last season of horse racing at Northlands Park. Fletcher Kent looks at the future of the sport in Alberta.

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EDMONTON – As Northlands unveiled its plans for the future of Rexall Place, president and CEO Tim Reid confirmed horse racing won’t be held at the site after this year.

“It’s with mixed emotions today that we talk about our partnership with horse racing,” Reid said Wednesday morning.

“2016 will be our last year in the horse racing business.”

Once the Edmonton Oilers announced they’d be moving from Rexall Place to the new Rogers Place downtown, Northlands had to come up with ideas on how best to repurpose the facility. After consultation with experts, the public and stakeholders, “Vision 2020” was released.

READ MORE: New vision for Northlands includes 7-sheet ice facility, outdoor concert space 

The plan includes three parts:

Northlands believes the site could be used for festivals, midways, even rodeos. The area will also be used for “massive scale concerts” with space for upwards of 140,000 people.

None of these images are final,” Reid said. “They’re just images and they’re thoughts and they’re conversation starters.”

“We’ve been clear with the horse racing industry that we think we need to process beyond horse racing to activate that 52-acre site. That being said, if the disuccions between the province and HRA [Horse Racing Alberta] came back and the business model changed dramatically, we’d be very grateful we had pictures and not final decisions.

READ MORE: Future of horse racing up in the air in Alberta 

“Horse racing has been part of Northlands’ identity for a long time,” Reid said. He added Northlands continues to be willing to work with the industry and is interested in the outcome of the talks between the province and Horse Racing Alberta.

“But our sense on it right now is we need to build for a future sustainability of Northalnds and not hedge our decision on what happens between the province and HRA.”

“The horse racing industry is not going away; one track is going away.”

Reid said he wants to make 2016 the best year for horse racing at Northlands.

“We’re really disappointed we’re going to lose a venue that’s known to the horsemen,” said Horse Racing Alberta CEO Shirley McClellan. “We wish we had a longer time frame for our industry. It’s not a good time frame.”

HRA issued a statement following the Northlands announcement.

“The Alberta Horse Racing and Breeding industry is rich in history, tradition and culture. Horse Racing began in Alberta in 1905, and we thank Northlands Park for being a part of that tradition for over 100 years. Obviously we are disappointed in their decision to leave racing at Northlands Park, they have been a strong partner over many years. However, we respect their decision and wish them well in their new endeavors. We will work with Northlands Park as they transition out of racing to minimize the impact on our industry.

“In Alberta, the Horse Racing and Breeding Industry is a way of life. Every day over 7,000 Albertans work hard caring for over 7,000 horses in communities across our province.

“Horse Racing Alberta remains committed to continue to race, entertain, provide jobs and contribute significantly to Alberta’s economy.

“Horse Racing Alberta is aware of interests in building a track in the Edmonton area and will explore, with our industry partners, options for racing in the Edmonton area.”

McClellan says HRA was already approached about a new track prior to Wednesday’s announcement from Northlands.

“We’ve had expressions of interest from people just hearing the rumours, saying ‘we’re interested.'”

McClellan believes a new track could be up and running soon as long as a new gaming deal is reached with the Alberta government, appropriate financing is lined up and the details approved.

“If everything went smoothly, we could be racing at a new track in 2018,” she said. “That would be our goal.”

READ MORE: New racetrack a ‘lifesaver’ for Calgary’s horse racing industry 

Kelly Hoerdt has been racing at Northlands for as long as he can remember.

“My father raced there before I was even born.”

“Northlands itself has hosted some of the best racing – probably worldwide – over the years,” Hoerdt said. “I remember some of the best horses in the world for sure showing up here for big races.”

He believes there’s room for another venue to pick up where Northlands leaves off. In the meantime, he’ll race at smaller tracks.

“It’s part of my heritage growing up actually. I watched all my favourite horses and all my favourite drivers and trainers from the time I was a little kid,” Hoerdt said.

“I wanted to be like them and be on that track and do that in front of those lights and cameras and everything else. Sure, it’s going to be missed.”

It’s the end of an era for Northlands, and one the mayor acknowledged Wednesday.

“That will come as a disappointment to many,” Don Iveson said, “but the economics around that are what they are and those decisions are made by others, at this point, we’re going to have to adapt.”

When asked about the impact on gaming at Northlands, Reid said gaming at the site has been tied to horse racing, but ultimately, the AGLC will make the final call about whether gaming could continue at Northlands post horse racing.

© 2016 Shaw Media

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