The Great Canadian Gaming Corporation shuttered Fraser Downs March 18 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that closure is leaving the horsemen feeling shut out.
After receiving a notice to be out by April 1st, the horsemen have started a petition asking to stay.
“We’re worried that our health concerns are not being met,” Sandra Roberts told the Cloverdale Reporter.
Roberts, an owner/trainer at Fraser Downs for 20 years, said she feels GCGC isn’t addressing the horsemen’s welfare by asking them to vacate Fraser Downs by April Fool’s Day.
“The information they released wasn’t true,” said Roberts. “They gave us an eviction letter — they called it a request to vacate — but when they said they were doing it to protect the health and well-being of everyone, they weren’t talking about the horses and the horsemen.”
On March 18, GCGC wrote in a press release that closing down “was necessary to protect the health and well-being of the company’s team members, the industry participants that race and train at the race tracks, and the support personnel for the industry.”
“Our health and well-being would be served by letting us stay on the grounds.”
She said about 100 horses and about 60 people are being affected by the notice.
Roberts added that the only people in the stables are the ones providing everyday care for the horses. She said not even owners are allowed in to feed their horses apples.
“Not the public, or unnecessary people mingling in the barns, but just the minimal personnel to ensure the care of their horses.”
She said there are never more than 12 people in a barn at any one time and they are open barns not enclosed barns.
“We come to the barn to do our chores and, when finished, go home,” Roberts said. “We are stabled in barns that are 275 feet long by 75 feet wide.”
Roberts is confused as to why GCGC wants them to move out if GCGC really has the well-being of the horses and horsemen in mind.
“Why (force) us to leave and disperse out to new places, causing new exposures, at a time when very little options are out there?”
Roberts wants GCGC to reconsider and she already has a petition with about 70 signatures on it.
“This is a time to consider the well-being of the entire community.”
The petition asks GCGC to let the horsemen stay on the grounds for the indefinite future. It also says, “The majority of horsemen have nowhere to go, as most training centres and farms have closed to the movement of people … and horses.”
The petition also says it’s in the “best interest for horses and their caregivers to stay put at Fraser Downs.”
Horseman Brent Hill said there are probably 50 horses still in the stables. “Some horses have already been moved, but many (horsemen) don’t) have anywhere to (take the horses). They’re phoning places in Alberta, now. The big stables in Langley are already all filled up. You can’t find availably for your horses.”
Hill said he’s lucky as he has a place to stable his horse, but he added some of the horsemen are now talking about squatting.
“There isn’t enough space for all those horses to go anywhere in the Lower Mainland,” he said. “Some horses and horsemen have already started to spread out across the country. That’s not really the best way to stop the spread of the virus.”
GCGC announced the closure of Hastings Racecourse in Vancouver and Flamboro Downs in Hamilton at the same time they announced the closure of Fraser Downs.
Matthew Anfinson, Great Canadian’s COO, said in that March 18 release, “This was a difficult decision for the Company to make, especially considering a similar decision was made for Great Canadian’s gaming properties across the country just a few days ago.”
Media contact Chuck Keeling, executive VP for stakeholder relations and responsible gaming, did not return calls by publication time.