BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Running on empty

It's time to take a look at horse racing and new uses for the Kin track

The pounding of the hooves and the cheering crowd reverberated through Osoyoos’ Desert Park race track Saturday.

But beyond the thrill of the competition, there was the cold, hard reality that this was the only live horse racing in the Interior this year. All of the other tracks, including Vernon’s Kin, were mothballed for the season.

And things don’t look much better for next year.

“It’s looking very dim,” Pete Hormes, Interior Horse Racing Association president, told the CBC.

The report from the national broadcaster indicates that while die-hard fans still flock to the track, the challenge is a lack of money. Track organizers are finding it difficult to raise the purse needed to draw riders.

The expense of raising horses also appears to be a factor.

“When you’re paying an exercise rider every day to get on that horse, you’re paying to feed it, you’re paying stall rental. How do you bring your horse in to train it to run one day a year?” Robyn Dalziel, president of Vernon’s Okanagan Equestrian Society, told the CBC.

Some in the industry remain optimistic about the future, but the article also clearly highlights some pessimism, or reality, depending I guess on one’s perspective.

Dalziel tells the CBC that she still hopes racing can return to Kin but she has doubts that the sport has a future in the Interior.

“I don’t know if you can say if it’ll be back like it was before,” she said.

This is an interesting comment to make when the Okanagan Equestrian Society has been locked in legal action for years with the City of Vernon and the Regional District of North Okanagan over Kin Race Track.

The dispute started when local officials evicted the society from the site in 2010. The society immediately took both groups to court, claiming equestrian activities were guaranteed when most of the track was turned over for free to the city. The society has also claimed RDNO ignored an agreement for lease renewals.

In turn, the jurisdictions have claimed the society hasn’t lived up to its terms of the agreement, including maintenance of the property and holding events.

The last races were in 2013 and while the fire that destroyed the grandstand in 2014 created some complications, other options for structures could have been found to keep horses running the last few years.

The bottom line is there are fewer volunteers to help organize these events and I suspect fewer people interested in sitting in the stands, especially given the multitude of other gaming opportunities that now exist.

Kin is expensive real estate and yet it stagnates.

RDNO had envisioned sports fields, a BMX track,  a gymnastics facility, trails and other amenities there, but everything is on hold because of the ongoing legal dispute. Even expansion of adjacent Kal Tire Place had to be reconfigured because of the conflict.

In June, the city decided to ask the courts if there is an inherent obligation to use the land as a race track.

No further details have been released since then, but given the CBC report, and some of the comments it contains, it will be interesting to see what the judge rules.