The Red River Exhibition Association’s plan for taking over Assiniboia Downs might be an excellent idea, but then the owners of the horse-racing track claim they also have a wonderful plan to revitalize the track on the western edge of Winnipeg.
The problem is that not much is known about either plan. The Red River Ex has talked in generalities about how it would save horse racing, while the Manitoba Jockey Club, which owns the non-profit facility, says it is bound by a confidentiality agreement with the proponent of a major new development at the site.
The Ex says it can do better, but the jockey club says it knows more about horse racing and it rejected Red River’s takeover bid more than a year ago.
That’s where it probably should have ended, but the province has its own horse in the race.
The Manitoba government provides about $8 million in support in the form of gaming revenue and a tax it levies on racing wagers.
The Ex says its plan could succeed with a smaller subsidy, which was so appealing to the government it hired a former NDP worker to do a study on the business plan. The study, which also is confidential, liked the Ex’s chances better than the jockey club’s.
But instead of bringing the two groups together in the interest of a deal that serves horse racing and taxpayers, the government instead fired a shot across the bow of the jockey club.
Finance Minister Stan Struthers said he preferred the Ex’s plans and, while he didn’t immediately threaten to cut the jockey club’s subsidy, the implication was clear.
In response, the jockey club, which the NDP believes is a bunch of Tory supporters, suggested that if it was cut off government support, it might sell the track and its surrounding 53 hectares of valuable land to the highest bidder.
The province faces some heavy going to get past the post on a file it should have handled with a little more horse sense.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 11, 2013