As a public affairs executive, I’m fortunate to have had a diverse and exciting career, working in government and industry associations, on issues from property tax, mining development, air transport policy and rental housing legislation. Tomorrow is my first day on the job in what will be my most exciting venture yet, as Director of Policy for Ontario Racing, on behalf of the horse racing industry.
Many of my colleagues who work in government relations were likely surprised by this move. After over 12 years working on behalf of real estate investors and large corporations, my new role is as about as far away as you can get from those – developing and advancing policy and industry strategy on behalf of a historic and fabled sport, with important ties to gaming, agriculture and tourism. My skills in policy research, industry analysis, association management and stakeholder relations will be put to their fullest use.
And indeed there’s nothing like the thrill and tradition of horse racing. The magic of picking and cheering on your favourite horse. The social connection between spectators, athletes and horses. And those famous names such as Seabiscuit, Secretariat, American Pharaoh, and of course, the famous Canadian, Northern Dancer.And talk about going back to my roots. I was born and raised in the Scarborough community of Bridlewood, a housing subdivision that was originally home to one of Ontario’s largest covered racetracks on the farm of Harry C Hatch. The racetrack was built in 1927 and lasted until developers bought the land in the late 1960’s. Old Harry raised and trained race horses here, including the legendary Sweepster, who also sired five King’s Plate Winners: Monsweep (1936), Goldlure (1937), Budpath (1941), Acara (1944) and Uttermost (1945). One of the local streets is named “Acara Court”.
There is something uncanny – and gratifying – about now working for the same horse racing business that long ago operated on the very land where I lived and spent my childhood.
The Business of Horse Racing
Horse racing today surely has many new challenges since betting on horses was first made legal in Ontario in 1906. It has a loyal and popular following, and has many exciting opportunities in the evolving business of sport and gaming.
Horse racing in Ontario employs over 90,000 workers directly and indirectly, with over $1.5 billion in annual wages. The Ontario Horse Racing Industry spends approximately $2 billion dollars per year on goods and services relating to their trade, with 80% of that money ($1.6 billion) spent primarily in rural, agricultural communities.
Just in Ontario there are about 10,000 races per year, with over $800 million in wagering, for a sport that features over 30,000 horses.
And where do I fit into this?
I’ll be working for Ontario Racing, a newly-created horse racing industry association, established on April 1, 2016, to assume many of the functions of the Ontario Horse Racing division of the former Ontario Racing Commission. Ontario Racing is responsible for directing breed improvement programs, setting an annual program of races and purses, attracting new horse owners, building a fan base and connecting the industry with government and the general public.
Ontario Racing will serve as the voice of the horse racing industry and will work closely with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) towards integrating horse racing into OLG’s gaming strategy.
As Director of Policy, I am responsible for providing advice and direction on strategy, policy development, program design and industry research to Ontario Racing, as well as representing the horse racing industry in policy-related discussions with industry stakeholders and government partners.
I plan to hit the ground running tomorrow, and ensure that Ontario Racing completes its 2016 strategic goals on behalf of the industry, it’s owners, athletes, breeders, groomers, veterinarians, horses and fans. I plan to post frequent updates and news about my new, exciting role. And I hope that if you’re not a fan of horse racing now, you’ll soon be.
Mike Chopowick – August 2, 1016