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‘Whatever it takes’: Horse racing fans call for Canadian Derby to stay in Edmonton ahead of potentially last race

Amy Zalasky (left) and Reesa John (right) put together their very own hats to wear at what could be the last Canadian Derby ever held in Edmonton. Aug. 20, 2016.
Amy Zalasky (left) and Reesa John (right) put together their very own hats to wear at what could be the last Canadian Derby ever held in Edmonton. Aug. 20, 2016. Aaron Streck/ Global News

Amidst the pomp and pageantry of “Derby Day,” there is a somewhat melancholy undertone to what could well be the last time the Canadian Derby is held in Edmonton.

“It’s definitely a day to go all out,” Amy Zalasky said. Along with her friend Reesa John, she dressed up in a decadent homemade hat put together specifically for the iconic horse racing event. “There’s only a few event in the world I think, where you can wear the craziest hats in the world.”

“It’s a little sad and that’s why we thought we had to come today in full regalia to do justice to this great tradition,” John said.

In February, Northlands CEO announced “2016 will be our last year in the horse racing business.”

The Canadian Derby which has been an annual traidtion at Northlands Park since 1956 and while Reid didn’t specifically mention the event, earlier this week he hinted there was a chance it might stay in Alberta’s capital.

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“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,” Reid told reporters Tuesday.

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

Watch below: 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.

Northlands CEO hints Canadian Derby could continue at current racetrack
Northlands CEO hints Canadian Derby could continue at current racetrack

The dressed-up horse racing fans Global News spoke to on Saturday ahead of the evening race, all seemed to be hopeful Northlands would find a way to keep the derby.

“They should certainly do their best to try and keep it – they don’t have to pull out all the stops if things don’t quite work out, but they should certainly put a good concerted effort into keeping it here,” Ernie Kreeft said. “It is kind of sad because as you can see by the crowd here, people enjoy coming out, it’s a nice venue, it’d be nice if it stayed on the circuit.”

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Ernie Kreeft dresses up for what could be the last Canadian Derby ever held in Edmonton. Aug. 20, 2016.
Ernie Kreeft dresses up for what could be the last Canadian Derby ever held in Edmonton. Aug. 20, 2016. Aaron Streck/ Global News

Scott Sinclair, GM at Northlands Park, told Global News the event remains a special one for many Albertans including himself.

“Derby Day is like Christmas Day for me…everyone looks beautiful, you’ve got the ladies dressed in the big hats (and) beautiful dresses, men dressed to the nines. It’s really a day to showcase the sport.”

He said the race, which is being followed by an infield performance by country singer Paul Brandt, is expected to draw over 10,000 people.

“The derby is a big event for us every single year and with this being the 87th running of it, it’s even bigger,” Sinclair said.

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

“I think it’s a really monumental time. I think it would be an unfortunate event to happen because this is so representative of the stadium,” Kathryn Ferguson, who dressed up to attend the event. “I think they should do everything they can to keep the Derby here.”

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Kathryn Ferguson dresses up for what could be the last Canadian Derby to be held in Edmonton. Aug. 20, 2016.
Kathryn Ferguson dresses up for what could be the last Canadian Derby to be held in Edmonton. Aug. 20, 2016. Aaron Streck/ Global News
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