Harness racing’s spring season is off to a great start at Cloverdale’s Fraser Downs.
According to Kelly MacMillan, the new president of Harness Racing B.C., the first five weeks of the season have been successful and the next eight weeks look promising.
“We’re just getting rolling,” MacMillan said. “Things have been really good. We’ve had a terrific start. The racing has been great and the handle’s up by about 45 per cent over the previous couple of years.”
The “handle” is the total amount of money bet both online and at the track.
MacMillan said the handle for the March 3 standardbred races was the biggest it’s been since 2018. That nine-race Friday night card totaled more than $324,000 for both at the track and simulcast betting.
MacMillan said Elements Casino has also reintroduced Friday night dinners in the homestretch grandstand and it’s proven to be very popular.
“The Friday night crowds have been anywhere from just about full to completely full,” he added. “Lots of new faces and lots of good action at the races. So it’s been really well received by the local crowd.”
MacMillan said several months ago, both standardbred and thoroughbred racing bodies in B.C. gave a wider mandate to B.C. Racebook to help grow interest in the sport.
“B.C. Racebook used to be in control of just marketing our online action in the racebooks around the province,” explained MacMillan. “Less than a year ago we also asked them to start promoting live racing for us.”
Since then he said B.C. Racebook has done a lot of things to help the sport on “both ends,” which includes spectator side and horsemen side. He said horse racing in B.C. is now on an uptick.
“Matthew Ruhlman and his team at the racebook have really put a lot of things in place that have been invaluable,” MacMillan added. “Considering we’re still dealing with some post-COVID stuff, and a very tight budget, we’re really happy with the team he’s assembled and the work they’ve been doing. And we’re going to see a bunch of big things happening going forward.”
Ruhlman, the CEO of B.C. Racebook, is handling both in-person and online race promotion.
MacMillan said they’re currently focussing on promoting their product and getting out to more venues in Canada, the U.S., and the world.
He said he expects to see “big things” from the stadardbreds at Fraser Downs this year and from the thoroughbreds at Hastings.
“We’re really going to see standardbreds shine this year and what we can actually do with our product when we get back in September (for the fall race season) and I’m just over the moon about it.”
He said the horsemen at Fraser Downs are continuing to “put their heads down and keep at it” even though it’s been a tough go recently with limited funds.
“That is the biggest factor that will take us forward. Their dedication and resilience.”
The spring season runs for eight more weeks at Fraser Downs with closing day May 5. The fall season will open Sept. 14.