Pesky frost problems brought harness racing to a halt two weekends early at Alberta Downs, but owner Robert Allen hasn’t reined in his ambitions.
The Calgary horse man has thoroughbred and quarter horse races lined up in late August and he hopes to have the harness racers back in October to his track next to Hwy 2, just south of Hwy 12, near Lacombe.
But he’s also got his eye on a big prize, the Alberta Derby. The annual race for three-year-old thoroughbreds is looking for a home and Allen would love to see them line up at his track in early September.
Harness racing debuted on April 18 and the track drew solid attendance and betting until persistent frost issues finally forced Allen to shut down the track to make repairs to the stretch in front of the grandstand, which is under construction.
“The frost started coming out of the ground and the track was starting to get soft right at the finish line,” said Allen. “Ninety-nine per cent of the track is fine. It’s just that one spot.
“I call myself a victim of new construction. It’s just not settled properly.”
Allen said they had to build the track with wet dirt last fall, which meant there was more moisture to freeze over the winter. As the temperature warmed, the frost melted and the water was pushed to the surface where it created muddy spots.
“I kind of expected it because I knew the track was brand new,” he said. “I thought there would be settling issues.
“We’re landscaping around the infield now and we’re still hitting frost with the backhoe — it’s unbelievable.”
Harness racers were keen to get going at the new venue so it was pressed into service a little earlier than would have been ideal. Allen expects to have the track back in running shape by next week.
Allen said the track proved itself in the weekends of racing that took place with many harness racers setting records. On May 2, Alberta’s Connie Kolthammer of Falun wrote her name into the Canadian record books by posting the fastest mile for a female driver on Canadian soil with a 1:51.3 run.
“That shows the track is pretty good and will be good.”
In the meantime, other work is continuing. He has planted 400, three-metre spruce trees to meet landscaping requirements.
Work on the grandstand has been halted until the necessary building permits are approved. Allen hopes to clear that hurdle by the end of the month.
“If everything goes right, I should be ready by August,” he said.