Alberta Downs prepares for racing season

The starter’s bell will ring in the first full season of harness racing at Lacombe on Saturday, provided the weather clears.

The starter’s bell will ring in the first full season of harness racing at Lacombe on Saturday, provided the weather clears.

Alberta Downs owner Robert Allen was feeling nervous about the first racing card of the season on Tuesday afternoon, looking at the water pooling on his grounds and turning his track into a one-mile circle of soup.

A couple of days of sunny weather will dry things up in time for opening day and the grandstand, while incomplete, is ready for business, said Allen.

“Is there ever a lot of horses here,” he said.

Owners and trainers have completely filled Saturday’s card with 10 horses in each of 10 races, starting at 1 p.m.

Allen said he is still facing some challenges. While the lounge and other essential facilities in the grandstand are ready, it still needs at least $1 million worth of work. He is also still struggling to have thoroughbred owners and trainers bring their horses to his facility.

While he would love to have the additional revenue from slots to help finance the facility, Allen said he has pretty much given up on achieving approval from the Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission.

Fred Gillis, executive director of the Alberta Standardbred Horse Association, was brimming with enthusiasm in a news release issued on Tuesday.

While unavailable for comment, Gillis said in his prepared statement that Lacombe racing fans can look forward to a summer of speed, including a special event late in July to be broadcast on CTV.

The ASHA has set up the Breeders Stakes for fillies and the Brad Gunn Stakes for colts, running on July 25, with purses of $75,000 each.

Altogether, the 50-day racing season offers purses of more than $900,000 with horse owners vying for a share of the money, said his statement.

A special feature this year is a charity program based on the earnings of Starring Role, classified by Ellis as one of standardbred racing’s top mares.

Starring Role’s earnings will benefit a variety of local charities, including Pretty in Pink, a Lacombe group raising money to fight women’s cancers.

Races start at 1 p.m. every Saturday, Sunday and Monday until the end of August. There is no charge for admission to the track, located east of Hwy 2 and south of Hwy 12, just outside of Lacombe.

bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com