Race of the Week 2017

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Zipse At The Track

I liked Fort Erie too much to say goodbye

My Saratoga-Fort Erie Road Trip ’12 came to end in grand style on Monday with my first ever visit to the Canadian track. I found the 115-year-old race place, just on the other side of the border from Buffalo, to be nothing short of charming. I only hope my first visit there will not also be my last.
Politics and I really don’t mix. At best they bore me, at worst they disgust me, so it should come as no surprise that I rarely address the topic within the pages of this blog dedicated to the love of thoroughbred racing, but what’s currently happening at Fort Erie is just sad.
Slot machines, installed at the track in 1999, had been a boon to Fort Erie in the early years, but with new casino competition in the area, and the reduced support by local American patrons since 9-11 law changes, they became far less profitable to the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. For a track that had become dependent on the slot machine revenue, losing the slots could quickly become a death sentence. And sure enough, precipitated by a March decision by the OLG to pull the slot machines from the track at the end of April, the Fort Erie track board voted in June to close the facility by the end of the year. The tough decision came from the reality that without the money from the slots, the racetrack simply could no longer be economically feasible. As things stand today, Fort Erie will close on December 31, with a final day of live racing scheduled for October 30.
Hundreds of people have already lost their jobs when the slots were pulled and hundreds more will be out of work after the closing of the track. As of Sunday, these were nameless, faceless people to me … they are no more.
I arrived at Fort Erie about three hours before the first race on Monday, as I wanted plenty of time to look around on my maiden breaking visit. I wasn’t there more than a minute or two when I said hello to a friendly looking security guard. I expected a quick, “sure” on my request to look around a little, but Mickey did much more than that, taking me on a tour of the entire facility. She has been working at Fort Erie for 13 years, and calls the people who work there a family. I knew Mickey was a real racing fan when she informed me of her disappointment on having missed the 2000 edition of the signature race at Fort Erie, and the middle jewel of Canada’s Triple Crown, the Prince of Wales Stakes, because she was not allowed to be at the track that day. The reason, you ask … Giving birth to her son.

Next, I met the person who runs the media department, Elissa Blowe. When I say she runs the media department, I mean she runs it … in fact she is the media department. Happily doing the work of at least three people, Elissa is the person to talk if you want to know anything about the track, and as proven race after race on Monday, as the person in front of the camera on the Fort Erie feed, she is both an astute handicapper and horsewoman. A human dynamo, Elissa is doing everything she can do on her end to make the track that she loves an economic possibility. Through all of this, she still took the time to be as friendly and gracious a host as I’ve seen on my countless racetrack visits.
Finally there was Allyson Walker, an assistant to Elissa. Ally was interested in my visit, and easy to talk with. As an exercise rider for Roger Attfield, working at Fort Erie is only one part of her connection to racing, but you could tell how she feels about the place. As we talked about my experience there, Ally helped me to describe what Fort Erie is like. A smaller version of Saratoga, a poor-man’s version of Keeneland, Fort Erie has old-time charm with aesthetic beauty. Like those two better known tracks, I loved the trees that gave the place a real outdoor, park-like feel. In another example of pride, Ally reminded me not to forget to mention the tiki-bar on the track apron just before the finish line that rivals what can be seen at Gulfstream Park. 
I met many other people there on Monday … my friends, Gene Kershner and Nick Costa, as well as, fans, owners, trainers, jockeys, and employees. They were without exception friendly, into the racing, and proud of Fort Erie.
I planned on this article being about a lovely and quaint old racetrack, with the most beautiful infield I've ever seen, that I had the pleasure of visiting for the very first time on Monday. A picturesque site that has hosted champions like Northern Dancer, With Approval and Dance Smartly during more than a century of racing history would have made for a great subject matter. That all changed though because of the people I met there. These are the people that will be most affected if Fort Erie Race Track is no longer. They are hard-working, very friendly, and lovers of horses and racing, just like you and me. One of them described what is going on right now as, “heart-wrenching.”  
I can only imagine a small part of what they are going through, because after only a single day, I liked Fort Erie too much to say goodbye.


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Older Comments about I liked Fort Erie too much to say goodbye...

15 y/o scratched from 1st race today
Fort Erie is now considering a festival type of meet in hopes of sustainability.
They will have to do a lot of work on the turf course because they did NOTHING to it all season long last year.
that sounds equitable....The cancellation of the program hurt the small venues the most.
that sounds equitable....The cancellation of the program hurt the small venues the most.
Yes I gather that the motion would halt the cancellation of the slots program and would allow each community to hold a referendum that is being considered for a casino and to put the casinos expansions at the tracks.
That would be a great great victory as EVERYONE has signs all over the downtown and Parkdale areas (where the damned casino would be located) that they do not want it.......Leave well enough alone dummies you are not going to get your kickback now that the downtown casino backers have been exposed!
I saw on the harness racing site that there is a motion being brought by the NDP to halt the cancellation of the slots program. From this site, it appears a number of horsemen, track workers and slots workers at the various tracks are planning to attend to support this motion.
I see Monte McNaughton is asking the soliciter general to look into the cancellation of the slots program. I assume that an investigation would reveal any ethical violations in the cancellation by the govt or liberal party.
Announced this AM Fort Erie opens May 26th and I guess the dreaded NASCAR bull will not spoil the air in that hamlet.
good news! TORONTO, March 26, 2013 /CNW/ - Premier Kathleen Wynne's announcement today that transition funding agreements have been completed with Fort Erie and two other racetracks - Flamboro Downs and Georgian Downs - is another very important step forward in implementing the premier's commitment to restore viability and vitality to the Ontario horse racing and breeding industry, says Dennis Mills, president and CEO of Racing Future Inc.
No, I said I knew Kawartha. Travel_vic, I wasn't caught doing anything but proving your statement incorrect. Have fun, you can have HRN to yourself. I'm leaving.
You were going to tell us all about this promotional gimmick and could not. Caught for the umpteenth time in fabrication.
Never said I was an expert on Kawartha. Please, stop putting words in my mouth.
TV, stop being a bully. Yet again, you bully someone when they did nothing to provoke you.
Cocoa the expert on Kawartha, just what is unique about its layout?
I didn't say I knew about advertising campaigns, I said I knew about Kawartha. I know about advertising campaigns because I am a consumer, and a consumer of horse racing at that
Cocoa since I DOUBT seriously you wouldn't know Peterbough from Hamilton, so how are we to believe you know a thing about advertising campaigns
travel_vic, you said no one knows about Kawartha, and I know about it. You're wrong. As posted before, I hate when people say "no one knows about x...", because it's completely untrue
The Mrs and I are going to drive out there when it gets warm just to see what is REALLY going on.

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Meet Brian Zipse 

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, and American Pharoah. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. 

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, or ZATT for short, and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as co-hosting the popular racing show, HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.


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