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Downs, province exchange barbs

Mounts are ridden around the practice track at the back of Assiniboia Downs last month.

TREVOR HAGAN / FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Mounts are ridden around the practice track at the back of Assiniboia Downs last month.

Horse racing may be the sport of kings, but the Manitoba Jockey Club and the provincial government were royally steamed and trading shots against each other Wednesday.

The jockey club, concerned in recent weeks that the Selinger government is trying to bankrupt it and turn the Assiniboia Downs and its 52.6 hectares over to the Red River Exhibition, said on Wednesday it has filed a formal complaint and request for a criminal investigation with the attorney general of Canada and the RCMP.

In a statement, the jockey club says it wants the RCMP to investigate the actions of provincial Finance Minister Stan Struthers, Red River Exhibition Association CEO Garth Rogerson, former secretary to the Community and Economic Development Committee of Cabinet Angela Mathieson, and Manitoba Horse Racing Commission chairman David Miles.

The jockey club fears Struthers will "manipulate the provincial budget for the purpose of bankrupting the Manitoba Jockey Club by the end of March if the MJC didn't agree to the plan of (Garth) Rogerson (CEO of the Red River Exhibition Association) and Struthers."

The jockey club also announced in a statement that it has been granted an expedited judicial review hearing in Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench on April 26.

When reached by phone, Darren Dunn, the club's CEO, would only say "the matter is before the courts so I can't comment."

But minutes after the club's statement was released, the provincial government sent out its own statement saying "the accusations being made by the Manitoba Jockey Club (MJC) are false and without merit.

"They are being made as part of a campaign to hang on to $9.5 million in public subsidies. We understand that the MJC is disappointed with the government's intentions, but we have a duty to spend public funds responsibly."

The spokeswoman said the province's budget will still come out on April 16.

The spokeswoman said there would be no other statements and Struthers would not comment on the matter.

But a couple of hours after that statement came out, Dunn sent out another statement taking issue with the provincial comments.

"We have been made aware of false statements made by the province," Dunn said.

"I would like to set the record straight by telling you that Assiniboia Downs is 100 per cent funded by our patrons -- so if Manitobans have never visited our venue they have never provided financial support to us.

"We are an industry that creates tax dollars. We don't spend them."

Dunn added that the horse racing industry generates 500 full-time jobs and has contributed more than $68 million to provincial coffers in the last 20 years.

RCMP spokeswoman Sgt. Line Karpish said she would not comment on the matter because it is not RCMP policy to confirm whether somebody is being investigated.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

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