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

CALGARY – The $24-million Century Downs Racetrack and Casino is slated to open to the public next month, and the harness racing industry is calling it a “lifesaver” that industry experts hope will revive the sport.

At Cenalta Stables, north of Olds, Gordon Empey has been raising standard-bred pacers for much of the past two decades.

“It’s always the time of year we look forward to the most because another two weeks the foals will start to come—just look forward to what we will have then, and two years down the road.”

But this year is special: for the first time in almost a decade, Empey’s horses will race in Calgary.

“It’s probably the lifesaver for us. We all have been just hanging on by the skin of our teeth the last years, every year getting tougher. And finally the light is going to show up at the end of the tunnel – and without it we are all finished.”

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After fits and false starts for years, Century Downs Racetrack and Casino will open on Dwight McLellan Trail near Cross Iron Mills. The hope is that it will inject $7 to $9 million annually into an industry that’s been starving for a major venue.

Horses run the track at Century Downs Casino and Racetrack on March 17, 2015. Doug Vaessen / Global News

“We are a casino and off-track betting site for 364 days of the year, but for 100 days we will race live–something unique to Calgary now,” said Paul Ryneveld, the general manager at Century Downs.

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The track still needs 20 cm of rock dust, but in a few weeks, horses will be running. The Alberta Standardbred Horse Association signed a five-year deal last week to provide the track with horses.

Ryneveld said they’re about two weeks away from opening the building, and another two weeks from horses on the track. They expect to be open to the public for live racing April 25.


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