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‘It’s devastating’: Horse racing community in shock after racing cancelled at Marquis Downs

Click to play video: 'Horse racing no more at Prairieland Park' Horse racing no more at Prairieland Park
WATCH: A rally was held in Saskatoon after Prairieland Park announced the permanent cancellation of horse racing at Marquis Downs – Mar 13, 2021

Prairieland Park announced in a release on March 12 that thoroughbred horse racing has been cancelled at Marquis Downs.

Roughly 40 local people involved with the horse racing industry came together for a peaceful protest in front of the Centre Mall on Saturday afternoon.

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Members of the horse racing community gathered on 8th Street to fight for horse racing in Sask. Brady Ratzlaff/ Global News
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Members of the horse racing community gathered with signs on 8th Street to fight for horse racing in Sask. Brady Ratzlaff/ Global News

Each person had a sign that signified their position in fighting to keep horse racing alive in Saskatchewan.

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The track at Marquis Downs is the only such racing venue in the province.

Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association Sask Division president Eddie Esquirol says many of the roughly 500 members of the local racing community were shocked and in disbelief after they heard the news.

“My phone has been ringing non-stop since (Friday) with my fellow horsemen and women asking me, ‘what do we do now? How do we save the industry,'” said Esquirol.

Read more: City of Saskatoon hears call to rename McPherson Avenue

Esquirol says, for many, their livelihood is their horses and racing, and it’s a 365-day investment and commitment. He says the average amount of money put back into the local economy from a year of racing is around $37 million, during the standard race season schedule of 24 days.

Local horse jockey Nicole Hein says she will more than likely have to leave the province.

“People are selling their horses and giving up and there is no reason for it,” said Hein. “Everyone is going to suffer from lower sales of hay, grain, tack and equipment. This is the outcome if horse racing really is gone from the province.”

Horse trainer Jamie Hartmann has been around horses from a young age as her family has made racing horses a tradition. They have been involved with racing for 50 years.

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“It was devastating to hear the news of the cancellation of the tradition that my family has been involved with all their lives,” said Hartmann. “For my boy to grow up and not know what Marquis Downs is.”

Click to play video: 'Horse racing season cancelled again in Saskatchewan' Horse racing season cancelled again in Saskatchewan
Horse racing season cancelled again in Saskatchewan – Feb 28, 2021

Hartmann says her husband has been racing out of Winnipeg.

Esquirol says there are six race tracks in Alberta and in total there will be 185 racing days. In Winnipeg, there are 50 racing days.

Hein and Esquirol say they are in the process of seeking funding from the provincial government to keep their goal of horse racing in Saskatchewan alive.

Professional soccer team coming to Saskatoon?

As Prairieland park announced their goal to permanently end horse racing at Marquis Downs, they also have plans to use the space for something entirely different.

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They unveiled their plans to bring a professional soccer franchise to bridge city. That team would play in the Canadian Premier Soccer League (CPL).

Read more: Prairieland Park axes thoroughbred racing, pursuing professional soccer team

Prairieland Park CEO Mark Regier says while the decision was not an easy one, horse racing wasn’t making any money, in fact losing money for multiple years prior to the cancellation for two straight years.

“We think it has run its course,” said Regier. “It’s just too expensive to run. We think it is over. We will look at other opportunities for the facility. We felt we wanted to move into something for the long term that would be successful for us and the city.”

“We are offering horsemen a $1,000 per horse that ran three or more races in 2019 to help them with the transition.”

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