Riders were made aware of the upcoming changes in a letter earlier this week which cited the “safety and sustainability of the sport” to be front of mind when making the decision to allow fewer competitors per heat in the upcoming chuckwagon races.
“Each of the nine heats will now see three wagons roll onto the Stampede track, rather than four,” the letter stated.
“The shift will provide greater maneuverability and space for you and your team in the infield area and around the track,” the letter said.
This year’s derby was cancelled alongside the Stampede due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The changes mean that fewer drivers will be invited to take part in the races next year.
On Wednesday, 27 invitations went out for the 2021 derby — that’s nine fewer than the 36 who competed in the previous competition.
It’s an adjustment officials noted will take some time to get used to.
“As with changes in the past, this may be a difficult adjustment for some, however, we feel it is essential to the sustainability of the sport at the Calgary Stampede,” the letter read.
“We want you to know this has been a significant consideration and the decision is not being taken lightly.”
Calgary Stampede’s communications manager added these changes were made with insight from several groups and organizations.
“We’ve had the opportunity over the last year and a half to engage with a lot of experts within the community, experts outside of the community,” Kristina Barnes said.
“Also having the opportunity to take a look and really build this plan for the years to come so we can continue chuckwagon racing at the Stampede.”
However, some animal rights activists don’t believe the new restrictions solve the entire problem.
“It’s good to see that something is being done, but it’s nowhere even close to where we should be,” animal rights activist with Direct Action Everywhere Shaun Hofer said.
“The only way to completely eliminate the risk is to completely eliminate the race.”
For many years, the Rangeland Derby has been a staple event to the Calgary Stampede, which in 2019 doled out more than $1.4 million in prize money.
However, the changes don’t stop there. Tuesday’s letter also outlined several other updates the derby will see in the upcoming years.
Veteran driver Mark Sutherland said that the changes didn’t come as a surprise, but that the decision could come as a blow to some drivers.
“I was happy that we were talking about having a Stampede in 2021,” Sutherland said Friday. “I think some of the drivers that were expecting to drive in 2020 that aren’t going to get to race in 2021 are really disappointed.”
One of those drivers is Sutherland’s son, Dayton, who despite winning on the WPCA circuit, wasn’t invited for the 2021 Rangeland Derby.
“There were some rookies that were probably going to be able to achieve their dream which was racing Calgary, I can understand why they’re disappointed,” he said.
The letter outlined that, beginning in 2022, the Calgary Stampede will only invite drivers who are competing within the World Professional Chuckwagon Association (WPCA).
The change means after 2021, drivers with the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association (CPCA) will no longer be invited. However, officials noted that gives riders with the CPCA one year to apply for a spot on the WPCA tour, and still be eligible to compete in the Rangeland Derby.
“We very much value our relationship with the CPCA and respect the association’s commitment and contribution to the sport of chuckwagon racing,” the letter read.
“With the vast majority of drivers at the Calgary Stampede already coming from the WPCA, this shift provides the opportunity for greater consistency with rules and regulations, as well as the drivers’ familiarity with each other.”
Canvas Auction cancelled
The auction, which has been a staple tradition at the Stampede for four decades, has been cancelled.
“The auction has been a Calgary Stampede tradition for 40 years and will always be recognized as a special part of our history,” the letter said.
“But our goal is to have you take control and achieve the greatest possible benefit from the advertiser relationship.”
The letter stated the new system will allow each driver to work directly with their advertiser of choice. It will also allow drivers to work with multiple advertisers throughout the 10-day event.
“Advertisers also have greater control to create a pre-set budget, which the auction format didn’t always provide,” the letter said.
Sutherland said ending the auction was the right move, adding that auctions over the years have changed, and he believed larger companies didn’t always want their advertising budgets on display.
“It isn’t printed on the side of NHL hockey boards that this ad cost $100,000 per hour, but that price tag was hung out there and I don’t think businesses are really interested in doing that,” he said.
Research projects to ensure animal safety
The letter also informed drivers of two separate research projects being conducted. One will be led by the University of Calgary’s research chair for equine sports medicine, Dr. Renaud Leguilette.
“One project will create a database for levels of the biological marker troponin in horses through blood testing, with the goal of being able to identify horses with pre-existing heart conditions,” the letter read.
The second research project will aim to determine optimal ground conditions of the Stampede track for horses.
“The study will examine data gathered using sensors attached to horses’ legs as they experience a variety of different ground conditions at different speeds.
“The sensors will measure the impact on the leg under the various conditions, providing information for analysis.”