For many years horse racing has played a prominent part in popular culture right around the world. It has long been an important and prosperous industry in Europe, Australia and parts of Asia. In other parts of the world, such as North America and Canada, it has not been considered such an important part of the economy and culture. But that doesn't mean it's not a popular form of entertainment or that it doesn't have much of a history. For more than a couple of centuries it has been enjoyed in these countries and is actually experiencing a bit of a revival.
The origins of horse racing in Canada
In the first few years of the 19th century, horses in Upper Canada were bred mostly for work. A few races were held on occasions, but they were not regulated and in fact were rather disorganized, right up until the 1830s. The situation changed around this time when the Upper Canada Turf Club was founded in 1837. Also a series of races were held by military personnel stationed at Fort York on a Garrison Common course. The first formal racing season was held by the Turf club in September, 1837. Throughout the 1800s the Turf Club continued to grow and it held a number of significant events at different racecourses, as well as at the private properties of its members. All over Canada, different courses were established, but the biggest concentration of them was in and around Toronto and Ontario. While interest in racing was increasing steadily, there was still a lack of adequate breeding stock in Upper Canada by the mid-19th century. In 1860, The Queen's Place was introduced to try and improve this. It involved a sizable purse and the added royal prestige that it was thought would encourage breeders with quality horses to travel the considerable distances to Canada from the United States or Great Britain. The Plate is named after Queen Victoria, and the prize was 50 guineas. The Queen's Plate is still held today and forms a third of the events in the Canadian Triple Crown. This is a series of 3 annual thoroughbred horse races and is open to 3-year old horses foaled in Canada. Originally, this even was established in 1959. It involves three different types of horse tracks surfaces but the distances that are run are the same as in the Crown's American counterpart. The three races are held on dirt, turf and polytrack. The sport received an important boost in Canada's West when prominent feed and grain entrepreneur R L 'Jim' Speers became the dean of the sport. He bought his first racetrack in 1922, and three years later he owned 3 more. By the mid-1930s he had set up his own breeding farm in Winnipeg, and very quickly became the country's largest. Economic difficulties also took their toll on the industry in the 1930s, affecting race-track operations and highlighting many of the abuses associated with the sport. The government and racing operators worked hard to counter this and a cleanup had been accomplished by the late 1940s. By this time the sport had evolved into a business with a number of the older, unprofitable tracks being closed down.
Horse racing in Canada celebrates 250 years
2017 saw the Canadian horse racing industry celebrate 250 years with 23 racetracks in 8 provinces taking part in a national celebration. The events were held over the July 1st weekend. From Prince Edward Island to British Columbia there were tracks holding races between June 30th and July 2nd. Flags were raised and commemorative miles were held to honor those involved in the industry throughout its history. It is actually part of a larger celebration organized by the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame together with Standardbred Canada and Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society. Earlier in the year a national initiative was also launched. Called '250 Miles for 250 Years', the aim was to accumulate 250 commemorative miles honoring the communities, horses and people who have participated in the sport over the last 250 years. The first race that ever took place was held on July 1st 1767 and took place on The Plains of Abraham in Quebec City.
The Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame
The Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame is located at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, and was established in 1976. it was created to honor those who have made a significant contribution to the sport of harness and thoroughbred horse racing in Canada. Every year it inducts Thoroughbred and Standardbred horses, sulky drivers, trainers, jockeys and the horse racing industry builders. It was founded in 1976, but didn't have an official home until 1997. The Hall contains a wealth of information relating to inductees, along with related memorabilia such as trophies, silks, racing programs and bronzed horseshoes. Special displays are created every year to honor some of racing's greats. Two committees nominate possible candidates who are later voted on by the corresponding election committee. The committees are for the Thoroughbred industry and the Standardbreds industry. Any Canadian person or horse can be nominated along with foreign-bred horses who had a significant influence on Canadian racing or breeding.
Horse racing in Canada today
There aren't too many big events that still form part of the Canadian horse racing calendar, and the industry has been struggling for a number of years, but the local championship is still going. In an attempt to boost the industry, slots machines were introduced at racetracks in 1998. This served to artificially raise their revenue quite considerably. But when they were removed without any warning in 2012, the effective was almost catastrophic. Online gambling has also had quite an impact with Canadians choosing to place their horse racing bets from the comfort of their arm chairs. The days of national pride in Canadian horse racing champions are long gone but the momentum to rejuvenate the industry is growing. For example, former Liberal MP Dennis Mills, runs an organization aimed at promoting the sport and attracting new fans. It's called Racing Future. Ontario's new premier, Kathleen Wynne, has also pledged interim funding for some racetracks as well as a number of other measures. Together with the Ontario Horse Racing Association and the Alberta Quarter Horse Racing Association and other regulatory bodies, these champions are hoping to further the cause of Canadian horse racing.