Before I extol the virtues of Kin Race Track as the ideal location for a new swimming pool in Greater Vernon, a little history lesson.
Horse racing was once a vibrant sport in the North Okanagan and was so for a century before dwindling to non-sustainable numbers.
I know because for the better part of the summer of 1988, in my broadcasting days, CJIB would record then track announcers Keith Reid and Wayne Penner calling the races from an overflow crowd at Kin Race Track.
That would consist of me sticking a microphone next to Reid or Penner while they announced the race and sending it via telephone back to the CJIB studio for broadcast. I’ve never forgiven Reid for suckering me into a $10 “sure thing” bet on a horse I could have beat around the track, and then having to listen to him try not to laugh as he mentioned said horse being in last place from getting out of the starting gate to the finish line.
This happened every Saturday and Sunday for the better part of July or August, I can’t remember which month. Race cards at Kin in the 1980s usually consisted of nine or 10 races per afternoon with a field of about eight or nine horses. The historic grandstand was overflowing. The beer gardens were crammed. People were lined up along the fences to get a good look at the horses as they came out of the pen. Cars were lined up along Alexis Park Drive and Old Kamloops Road. Thousands upon thousands of dollars were bet every weekend.
And it wasn’t just a one-year thing. No sir. This went on every summer. For decades. Until things like tele-theatre betting, a legal dispute over the track with the City of Vernon and Regional District of North Okanagan and dwindling numbers of horses, and jockeys and owners left Vernon Racing Days scrambling to field a lineup.
In 2013, the last official year of horse racing in Vernon, cards consisted of maybe four or five races, with – if organizers were lucky – five horses in the field. Despite the reduced numbers, the grandstand remained packed.
More people watched horse racing in one afternoon in Vernon than they did a soccer, baseball, football, slo-pitch or rugby game combined.
The next year, 2014, Vernon Racing Days cancelled its opening race card due to lack of horses. A few days later, the grandstand burned down and nary a track announcer would shout “DOWN THE STRETCH THEY COME” ever again. We all know that the Okanagan Equestrian Society, which operated Vernon Racing Days, was already into a legal scrap with the city and regional district (started in 2010). The courts ruled in 2018 against the society, which appealed, but dropped the appeal earlier this year. Thus, horse racing is done. All that’s left are the memories of once-vibrant support. The enthusiasm was always there, just not the tools necessary to make it viable.
So the city, back in charge of parks and recreation facilities in Greater Vernon, has now undertaken a feasibility study to scout out locations for new amenities, such as a new swimming pool, and well, by gosh, Kin Race Track is the perfect location. Central, plenty of space for parking and other amenities, a no-brainer. People want a new pool, the race track land is available.
Kin Race Track gave the city 100-plus years of horse racing entertainment. There’s nothing to stop it from providing 100 years of recreation opportunities.