The owner of Alberta Downs is hoping this weekend’s opening day won’t be a false start.
The Lacombe-based racetrack is set to open for its first 10 harness races on Saturday, but approvals haven’t yet been given by Lacombe County and Alberta Environment. Alberta Downs has two racetracks and is located on Hwy 2, just south of the Lacombe Hwy 2 overpass, on the east side of the road.
Alberta Downs owner Robert Allen said all of the engineering reports have been submitted, but he is just waiting for them to be processed by government officials.
“We’re working as if we are going to go (and open),” Allen said.
But Lacombe County Reeve Terry Engen said all of the information hasn’t been submitted and the development agreement has not been signed by the county or the owner. He said if the racetrack opens without the proper approvals being in place, a stop-work order could be issued by the county that would freeze all work on the site.
Engen said the two major outstanding issues are that a plan still needs to be submitted on beautifying the property along Hwy 2 and the owner still needs to get the proper Alberta Environment approvals for a wetlands on the site.
While Engen said he thinks Alberta Downs has made progress this week, there is still more to be done.
“I think the bottom line is they’ve run out of time,” Engen said. “They’ve known this for a long, long time and they just haven’t been working at it to take corrective action to clear all these things up.”
There are 10 races set for Saturday and 10 set for Sunday at Alberta Downs, with almost 200 horses taking part from all over Western Canada. Allen said he hopes opening day isn’t shut down by government officials. “I wouldn’t see the benefit in it. It would affect a lot of people.”
The racetrack employs around 25 people, on top of all of the people who look after the horses.
Allen isn’t expecting a large crowd the first weekend, but he said everyone is welcome to check it out.
Despite the current back and forth between the owner and municipal government officials, Engen said the council fully supports the racetrack being in Lacombe County and has gone through the redesignation of the land. “I think we’ve been very clear that we do support it. It’s just a matter of getting all this darn paperwork done,” Engen said.
Larry Thomas of Edmonton is one of the owners/trainers looking forward to the new track opening. He owns 30 horses and has seven at the track, some of which he shares with his business partner Rod Starkewski.
“I personally love it,” Thomas said. “I love the big racing surface.”
He said the Alberta Downs racetrack is 1.5 km long, compared to tracks he has been on in Edmonton and Calgary that were one km. He said the larger track compares to those in Eastern Canada and the United States and is easier on horses because they don’t have to take as many corners.
He plans eventually to race his champion horse Skip to My MJJZ at the track, but is going to see how things go the first couple of weekends first. The horse is named after Thomas’s four children, Melissa, Joshua, Jessica and Zachary.