Sure, Fort Erie Race Track has announced it will close at the end of this year, and that means Sunday's Prince of Wales Stakes could be the last at Fort Erie, but there's still a chance. It would take a miracle to save it, but Thibert, Fort Erie's general manager, isn't one to give up on a long shot.
“I would never bet against it,” Thibert said. “ has been around 115 years, been through world wars, recessions and depressions. She's been dead so many times it would make your head spin. A lot of people are working hard to keep it open. I can't give people a false impression, but I would never bet against it. I've seen stranger things happen.”
At its annual meeting June 7, the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium decided to close the track on Dec. 31. It wasn't by choice, though. The track was forced into a situation it hoped to never encounter. The facility has dealt with a loss of roughly $1.2 million this year after the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. officially closed its 400-slot machine operation at the race track on April 30 because it eliminated race-track slots from its 2012 budget.
Rod Phillips, gambling corporation president and chief executive, released a statement in March after reaching the decision.
“Fewer Americans are crossing the border to play slot machines at border sites,” Phillips said. “A decade ago, border casinos returned a net profit of $800 million a year. Today, that profit is less than $100 million and falling.”
Thibert isn't happy about it, but he's had to take steps to close the track. He declared this could be the closing year for legal purposes. Workers needed notice, after all. Plus there were bettors around the world who needed to know if there will be races in 2013.
Thibert is working with Ontario's government and trying to secure $10 million to help employees who could potentially lose their jobs. He said they don't have much career training outside of horse racing.
“We're hoping the government understands they pulled the plug on us without any real notice,” Thibert said.
Attendance has gone up this year — just 4 percent overall from 2011 to 2012, but there has been a 17 percent increase in June and July.
He said if the track closes this year, it's highly unlikely it will ever come back.
As for the Prince of Wales itself, things are a lot brighter on that front.
“It's going to be a dynamite weekend,” Thibert said. “We might even get a sprinkle of rain to add a little flavor, cool it down. I think it will be a tremendously tight race. Anything can happen in the Prince of Wales, it's worth $500,000.”
The field consists of nine 3-year-olds. The top two choices are both fillies. Irish Mission is the morning line favorite at 5-2 odds, while the talented Dixie Strike is at 3-1.
Those two finished second and third, respectively, to Strait of Dover in the Queen's Plate, which is the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown. Strait of Dover will not run the Prince of Wales because he hasn't run well on dirt tracks. He had two poor outings at Hastings Race Course near Vancouver.
The Canadian Triple Crown races are run on three different surfaces: Polytrack (synthetic) in the Queen's Plate, which took place at Woodbine on June 24; dirt at Fort Erie; and turf in the Breeders' Stakes, which will take place at Woodbine on Aug. 5.
The mood around Fort Erie has been surprisingly positive.
“It's been great,” Thibert said. “We have an absolutely astounding, great crew. There's a real sense of excitement. Everyone is unhappy with the fact it could close, but they've been facing it before. We're going to make the very best of this year.”