Bob Allen, former owner of the Alberta Downs race track at Lacombe looks out from a rail at the track on Thursday. (Photo by Jeff Stokoe/Advocate staff)

Alberta Downs horse racing track closes

Alberta Downs was decade-long passion for Lacombe’s Bob Allen

Bob Allen spent a decade trying to bring horse racing to Central Alberta.

This year, his dream was put out to pasture, his race track at Hwy 2 and Hwy 12 sold to a Red Deer developer a couple of weeks ago.

Allen does not hide his bitterness at the demise of his track, which he blames largely on Horse Racing Alberta, the non-profit entity that oversees horse racing in this province.

“Last year they took the races away and wouldn’t give me any this year,” said Allen, who said 40 jobs are affected.

“I had good races last year, but they’ve done everything possible to make it not work,” he said.

A dispute with the horse racing body saw his season last year cut short only six weeks into what had originally been planned as 21 Sundays of racing. Racing was soon switched to Tuesdays to get better exposure in U.S. pari-mutuel betting circles.

Horse Racing Alberta had provided operating funding, which reached $1.2 million in 2014, but then it stopped its financial support.

He’s considering taking legal action against Horse Racing Alberta.

Allen said he’s never been told why he was not given races.

Allen has also been frustrated by restrictive pari-mutuel horse racing regulations that prevented Canadians from betting on his races from elsewhere in the country.

Without a steady income from the racing and the property zoned only for horse racing, Allen had limited options.

He also ran into difficulties meeting an agreement to pay back Lacombe County for $420,000 of paving on the access road leading to the track.

When the county took legal action, Allen said he decided to call it quits.

Lacombe County commissioner Terry Hager confirmed they “were certainly pursuing our legal remedies for the collection for the debt owing on that road.”

The money owing the county is registered against title, meaning the municipality would expect to get its money back when the property sold.

Hager said he has worked with Allen for the past two years, looking at creative ideas to help the track.

“We sort of exhausted everything.”

Allen estimates he sank $8 million into his racing venture. He had to sell at a big loss, he said.

Others will also be affected by the track’s closure.

“Lots of people lost their jobs and lot of people don’t have anywhere to take their horses,” he said.

From its start, Alberta Downs faced large hurdles.

Originally, a racing entertainment centre featuring up to 150 slot machines and on-track and off-track pari-mutuel wagering was to be centrepiece of the facility. However, the province introduced a moratorium on new gaming licences in 2008.

Despite the setback, Allen was confident horse racing could be profitable in Central Alberta.

The track featured the only one-mile dirt track and 7/8-mile turf track in Western Canada. The facility included grandstand and a number of stables and a warm-up area.

Allen had plenty of experience in horse racing prior to Alberta Downs. He ran a racetrack in Calgary from 1981 until 1998, when the property was sold for a housing and golf course development.

He doesn’t know what the developer’s plans are but it won’t be horse racing he’s sure of that. He declined to name the developer at this point.

Allen is already looking at opportunities in California.

“At least they treat you better there.”

A Horse Racing Alberta representative could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

pcowley@reddeeradvocate.com

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