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New Alberta $78-million horse racing complex


November 18, 2004     E-mail this page to a friend!

By Garry Allison

The Horses, RMTC, Lethbridge—“Alberta deserves this.” Those were the words of Max Gibb as he assessed the newly-announced $78-million horse racing complex slated to be opened in January, 2007 on the northern outskirts of Calgary. Gibb is Chief Executive Officer of the United Horsemen of Alberta Inc, the investment team awarded a long-term race track license for the Calgary market, valid from 2007 to 2017.

The awarding of the racetrack license adopts the recommendations resulting from the Industry Working Committee Report of June, 2001 which ensures the horse racing industry will continue to grow and prosper in Alberta, Dr. David C. Reid, Chairman of Horse Racing Alberta said.

”This decision represents a detailed process and will benefit the sport and the province,” said Dr. Reid. “The economic impact of horse racing in the province in 2003 was $295 million and we know this announcement will positively contribute to our economic growth in the future.”

The announcement was the culmination of an extensive racetrack licensing review process which has been ongoing since October, 2003. The complex will be located along Highway 3, just north of the Calgary airport on the edge of the Calgary city limits, along the most traveled highway in Alberta, linking Lethbridge and all of southern Alberta with Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton.

The facility will feature a mile-long dirt track for Thoroughbreds, with an inner Standardbred track of seven-eighths of a mile. There will be a 550-yard chute on the front side and a six and a half furlong chute on the backside of the 90-foot wide, banked track. The stretch run, from the final turn to the wire, will cover 990 feet.

“This will be a world-class, state-of-the-art, comprehensive entertainment destination,” said Gibb. “This is the race track for the future, for the next 100 years. It will be a safe, mile-long track with scientifically banked turns, banked at a three per cent transition rate to six per cent beginning 200 feet prior to the start of the turns.

“Along the backstretch we’ll have 1,200 horse stalls, tack rooms, a pony barn, paddock area, men’s and women’s dormitory rooms, laundry and shower facilities and a veterinary school and equine hospital. There’ll be daycare, recreation and classroom facilities and a cafeteria. We’ll have an education centre, a whole on-track world for the horsemen.”

The four-level grandstand’s main floor will include a Las Vegas-style gaming parlour with 500 slots, simulcast and entertainment areas, a food court, retail facilities, and a paddock amphitheatre, which will be used for horse sales, concerts and all types of events. On the second level you’ll find the mezzanine, member’s club lounge and terrace and a 150-seat buffet dining room. The Clubhouse will be on level three along with track-side dining and Clubhouse box seats, the Horseman’s Lounge and a viewing terrace. The upper level will accommodate track officials and the media.

United Horsemen of Alberta is comprised mainly of Alberta Horsemen, businessmen, farmers and ranchers and builders, along with Gateway Casinos Inc, from western British Columbia, and Calvent LLC, developers of Emerald Downs in Seattle. Among the well-known Albertans involved are Calgary lawyer Bill Code, Marvin Christensen of Triwell Oilfield Construction in Taber, Jim Juris, noted auctioneer and horseman from Picture Butte, award-winning music promoter Ron Sakamoto of Lethbridge, and Lethbridge’s Rocky Mountain Turf Club, a major player in the organization.

“United Horsemen of Alberta is a partnership with the combined skills and experience needed to operate a world-class comprehensive racetrack and entertainment destination,” said Gibb, “Our facility fully embraces the HRA vision and we are proud to partner with the racing industry in raising the sport to a new level and even greater prominence.

“We will have an agreement in place with the Alberta government similar to agreements with the oil industry so, if the government ever changes its philosophy on gaming and horse racing, there will be a commitment for a buyout.”

Simulcast racing and the gaming components of the new facility are scheduled to open in January 2007 with live racing to begin the first weekend of April 2007. Live racing in Calgary will continue at Stampede Park in 2005.

Gibb said the Calgary Stampede is limited in its land base regarding expansion of its track and barn areas, and for added accommodation for horses and people, which were some of the reasons HRA chose a different route for its licensing in the Calgary market.

“We’ve invited the Stampede people to work with us and participate with us,” said Gibb. “We are working co-operatively with the Stampede for a comfortable transition. They are committed to live racing in 2005 and we feel they will commit to a 2006 season as well.”

Gibb said the new track and entertainment centre will have a positive impact on the Lethbridge horse race scene through the growing interest in live horse racing and the Alberta-bred incentives for horse owners. The new track will help increase not only Alberta-breds for Alberta race tracks but increase the quality and number of horses involved in the sport.

A recent Horse Race Alberta study shows a gross provincial economic output of $295 million in 2003 in the racing and breeding industry. RMTC in Lethbridge, where Gibb is also the CEO, had an operation expenditure of $1,591,170 million, racing expenditures of $6,327,496 million and realized $5,205,451 through the breeding programs for a total industry impact in the Lethbridge market area of $13,124,117.
The report also underlined the fact that the gross output of the economic impact of the horse racing industry in Lethbridge was $32,394,919.

“With the new track in Calgary and the total refurbishing of Whoop-Up Downs this winter, that economic impact will do nothing but increase here in southern Alberta,” said Gibb. “It is just seven short years ago the sport of horse racing was virtually dead in Lethbridge, and now we are responsible for pumping millions of dollars back into the economy of this area.”