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Mixed messages as Northlands CEO hints organization interested in keeping Canadian Derby

WATCH ABOVE: Edmontonians are hearing some mixed messages when it comes to the future of horse racing at Northlands Park. On Tuesday, the organization's CEO was teeing up the 87th Canadian Derby which takes place this Saturday. But Tim Reid seemed to leave the door open for the event coming back, despite earlier saying 2016 would be the final year of horse racing at Northlands.

Almost exactly six months after announcing 2016 would be the final year of horse racing at Northlands, the organization’s CEO cracked the door wide open for a reversal on that decision at Tuesday’s Canadian Derby Post Position Draw.

In what was expected to be another sign of the end of an era for Northlands in Edmonton, horses were drawn and race positions were set for what many believed would be the last-ever edition of the Canadian Derby at Northlands Park which gets underway Saturday.

“There’s a lot of conversations that need to happen and we’ve had some of those conversations in the past and we’re going to have some in the future, but what happens in the next steps I really think is a conversation with the community, with council and with our board of directors,” Northlands CEO Tim Reid told reporters Tuesday.

In February, Reid dropped a bombshell, announcing that Vision 2020 – the organization’s new blueprint for its future – would not include horse racing after 2016. While he never specifically said the organization would not put on the Canadian Derby anymore, its future was widely seen as uncertain at best. It’s just one of the changes the organization is making as it adapts to the Edmonton Oilers leaving their Northlands home at Rexall Place for the new Rogers Place arena downtown.

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“Our intent is respectfully to exit the industry…to celebrate the last that we’ve had and take 2016 and make it the best horse racing year we have ever had,” Reid said on Feb. 17, 2016. “2016 will be our last year in the horse racing business.”

READ MORE: New $165M vision for Northlands includes 7-sheet ice facility, outdoor concert space

Watch below: Northlands unveiled bold plans for the future of the site which include three major renovation projects. Vinesh Pratap filed this report on Feb. 17, 2016.

Northlands reveals new vision for future
Northlands reveals new vision for future

Reid added he believed there would be enough time to plan and organize a 2017 Canadian Derby in Edmonton as long as Northlands’ future was clear by January.

The CEO said the Northlands racetrack was only used about 100 days a year and that while he was not committing to not having any horse racing events there anymore, he thought “there’s a higher and better use going forward.”

“No matter what happens with the Canadian Derby and the racetrack in the future, we’ll always be a champion of this race,” Reid said.

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

Saturday marks the 87th year of the Canadian Derby, an event billed by Northlands as “the biggest day in western Canadian Thoroughbred racing,” and the race’s 60th year in Edmonton. The annual race first began in Winnipeg in 1930 and was called the Manitoba Stakes. In 1941, the race adopted the Canadian Derby moniker before moving to Edmonton’s Northlands Park in 1956.

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“The Canadian Derby is a longstanding tradition here in our city and here with Northlands,” Reid said Tuesday. “Not just representing Edmonton, but representing Alberta.”

The 2016 Canadian Derby will wrap up with an infield concert by Alberta-born country singer Paul Brandt.

As of Tuesday, it was unclear where or even if future Canadian Derby races would be held.

READ MORE: 4 proposals submitted to build horse racing facility in Edmonton area

Watch below: Declining attendance and an expiring gambling revenue deal are just a couple of the challenges facing Horse Racing Alberta these days. Tom Vernon filed this report on Jan. 6, 2016.

Uncertainty looms over Horse Racing Alberta
Uncertainty looms over Horse Racing Alberta

Reid said tickets for the race are sold out but tickets for concerts by Paul Brandt and Gord Bamford are still available.

READ MORE: Enoch Cree Nation hopes to bring horse racing to community west of Edmonton

-With files from Vinesh Pratap, Global News.

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