Nov 212016

Alberta HBPA

2016 – That’s a Wrap

Let’s start off with an apology for being tardy with this column, however when one is basking in the South Pacific waters on a cruise ship, or looking at potential warmblood purchases in Europe, motivation to do anything other than hang out is a challenge. Coupled with our team of contributors supposedly harbored in sunny locales unknown (California and Africa), what was supposed to be a recap of the 2016 Northlands Thoroughbred meet and a prelude to the Breeders Cup ends up being a quick recap of both.

The gods did not look kindly upon the management of Northlands and the Horsemen from Thanksgiving Day weekend to the end of the meet adding to the tumultuous year of thoroughbred racing at the Park. We lost three race days due to undesirable track conditions caused mostly by inclement weather. Even though all involved may have errored on the side of caution by not racing, we believe that safety of humans and equine is first and foremost. The Horsemen are grateful that Northlands with the cooperation of HRA, added an extra day (Thursday, October 20) to the calendar. The additional day and extra races carded during the final days of the meet afforded our members the appropriate racing opportunities.

The four (4) Stake races originally scheduled for Thanksgiving Day were deferred until the final day of the meet (October 22). We wish to acknowledge all those who participated in these Stake races since we know that pointing for a specific race only to have it deferred twelve days down the road does not always work in terms of full participation. Upsets were recorded in the Duchess of York, Juvenile, and the Harvest Gold Plate. For the second year in a row Can’t Use Nellie shipped in from Winnipeg and visited the Winner’s Circle at the expense of runner-up Onstaratatime who was taking on older mares for the first time in 2016. Trooper John looks like he relishes the longer distances and would probably rank as the winter book favorite for the Canadian Derby. His sire Colonel John was one of the top ranked three year olds in 2008 winning both the Santa Anita Derby and the Travers. Frank Bodell’s Royal Warrior’s performance in the Harvest Gold Plate indicated that he is either getting better or the two older standout Handicap stars – Killin Me Smalls and Blue Dancer were getting tired at meet end. Ruffenuff’s performance in the Freedom of the City was eye popping where she bested her rivals by over ten lengths for her third straight victory – all in Stakes company. The undefeated daughter of one of the leading Freshmen sires in North America – Dialed In has won these races by a combined 30 lengths. She is by far the best 2 yo. Filly on the grounds. Rumor was that she would try a Stake at Woodbine this Fall, however we have not seen any works on the filly thus it would appear that there will be no Ontario campaign – not this year anyway.

Everything that needed to be said about the recent Breeders Cup races has been said. Beholder’s victory over Songbird and Arrogate’s hard fought win over California Chrome were races for the ages. Runhappy is not happy running a mile as we previously pointed out. Huge crowds with perfect southern California weather resulted in wagering of $146 mm. for the two day card. Speaking of wagering, one of our assistants who likes to fly under the radar, thinks he is a crack handicapper and does not want his name out there (Mat Monaco) contends he correctly picked 6/13 Breeders Cup races. When pushed to disclose the return on investment, we were advised it’s not about the money it’s only about being king for a day.

As a starting point, the 2016 Northlands thoroughbred meet began May 6 and concluded October 22. During the meet 69 cards were raced with a total of 3 days lost due to track conditions. The following Schedule denotes this year’s wagering, race days, races carded, starters and all information with respect to purse payments and compares the numbers to 2015.

WAGERING 2016   2015   INCREASE   %
ON TRACK $5,125,646 $6,067,428 ($941,782) (15.52)
OFF TRACK $13,758,014 $15,407,862 ($1,649,848) (10.71)
TOTAL $18,883,660 $21,475,290 ($2,591,630) (12.06)
DAILY AVERAGE $273,676 $286,337 ($12,661) (4.40)
LIVE RACE DAYS 69 74.25 (5.25) (7.00)
RACES CARDED 539 585 (46) (7.86)
TOTAL STARTERS 3,711 4,220 (509) (5.10)
AVERAGE STARTERS/RACE 6.86 7.21 (0.35) (4.85)
OVERNITE PAYMENTS $5,170,366 $5,689,364 ($518,998) (9.12)
STAKE PAYMENTS $1,988,700 $2,045,000 ($56,300) (2.75)
PARTICIPATION FEES $114,480 $143,280 ($28,800) (20.10)
ALTA BRED BONUS $786,184 $783,308 $2,876    n/s
$8,059,730   $8,660,952 ($601,222) (7.06)
OVERNITE & PARTICIPATION FEES $76,592 $78,554 ($1,962) (2.50)

Behind the Numbers

Wagering results were to say the least – disappointing; a 12% decrease in total wagering on our product was not something we planned for. For the first 20 days of the meet betting was in line with the numbers posted in 2015, however things started heading south in the latter part of June and continued for the remainder of racing calendar. The greatest factor impacting wagering negatively was the relatively short field sizes offered. For the 3,711 races carded during the meet the average starters per race totaled 6.86 compared to 7.21 in 2015. Unfortunately this is a problem in nearly all thoroughbred jurisdictions in North America. In order to keep the lower claiming horses in the system, the HBPA of Alberta introduced an Incentive Program for 2016 where qualifying horses returning to Northlands would earn up to a maximum of a $1,000 bonus after the fourth start of the year. We deemed this Program a success with total payments to eligible owners amounting to $116,000. A similar program will be offered for 2017.

Total purses paid in 2016 were slightly more than $8 million as is reflected on the Schedule. Advertised pursue remained status quo for 2016 however, since 46 less races were carded, overnite payments and participation fees were around $550,000 less than last year. The bonus paid to owners of AB bred horses totaled $786,000 which was in line with 2015. A real time bonus payment of 37% for horses finishing 1, 2, and 3 in qualifying races were added to the Owner’s regular purse by the Horsemen’s Bookkeeper.

The current purse structure for “A” track thoroughbreds makes it difficult to reinvest current and new capital required to grow the business. The trend of spreading financial risk through “Racing Clubs” seems to have caught on and is attracting current fans and neophytes to try ownership with very little upfront money and an opportunity to socialize and enjoy the sport with fellow race goers. Curtis Landry with the help of trainers Rod Cone and Craig Smith and many others, introduced at last count 125 new owners to the sport in Alberta during the year. It is also encouraging to see that many local horsemen and breeders are at the current Ky. mixed sale replenishing bloodstock. Craig Smith has purchased four to race at Northlands next year. Included are two from the Conquest Stable dispersal costing a total of $23,000 for new owner    Bar C5 Ranch. It was noted that Conquest originally paid $590,000 for Conquest Mischief and Conquest Hot Humor, so Bar C5 won’t have as much capital to recoup.

As is customary, the two (2) biggest events of the racing calendar were again; the Canadian Derby and Alberta Fall Classic Day. This year, 11 races (10 TB and 1 Quarter horse) races were offered on Derby day resulting in total wagering of $1,166,075 compared to 13 races offered in 2015 where wagering totaled $1,344,543. The jury is still out to determine if music concerts and horse racing mix at Northlands and if a very late post time for the Derby itself is sustainable in the future. Wagering on this year’s Alberta Fall Classic day of $445,682 was a little less than last year’s $483,165.


2017 Outlook

    • The good news going into next year is that the sharing of gaming revenues with the Provincial Government generated from RECs has been determined and stabilized for the next ten (10) years. Revenue flowing to the industry up to March 31, 2017 will be 50% of the net slot win, dropping to 45% for the fiscal year April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018.
    • On September 19, 2016 Horse Racing Alberta announced that Century Casinos Europe GmbH was the successful applicant to own, build and operate an “A” Track Horse Racing Facility in the Edmonton market area and will move forward in the Licensing process.
    • On November 3, 2016 Northlands and HRA announced that Northlands will be granted gaming and racing licenses to conduct racing at their Facility from January 1, 2017 to    June 30, 2018. It is anticipated that the new Edmonton Facility will be operational in the latter part of 2018.
    • The current Northlands/HBPA Racing Contract expires on December 31, 2016. The Parties will be negotiating the extension of the current Agreement for the period commencing January 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018.
    • We have yet to negotiate with the tracks “A” thoroughbred dates for 2017. At this writing the HBPA has not been advised of the 2017 purse grant from HRA.
    • The HBPA will again prepare the necessary paper work to assist Foreign riders for the 2017 season. To date we have been unsuccessful in obtaining the required legal assistance to provide our Trainers with the required paperwork for importing temporary foreign workers.


  • Effective January 1, 2017 it will be necessary for Trainers to obtain Workers Compensation coverage as legislated. The HBPA will continue to carry supplementary accident insurance to provide our backstretch workers for coverage that WCB does not. Note: The HRA Directive follows this message.


We will keep our membership and interested parties informed; as new information becomes available it will be posted on the HBPA website.

November 20, 2016

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