No news is good news: Kawartha Downs cancels 'major announcement' at Peterborough-area harness racing track

Horsemen and the mayor of Cavan Monaghan Township are taking the cancellation of a “major announcement” at Kawartha Downs on Thursday morning as good news.

Kawartha Downs general manager Orazio Valente called a press conference for a “major announcement regarding the future of Kawartha Downs.” When it came time for the press conference, Valente said he was postponing the announcement.

“There has been a major development in the last 24 hours. As a result of this development we are postponing this press conference to a date in the near future,” Valente told a gathering of about 25 people from the harness racing community and media.

Valente would not elaborate on what the announcement was going to be or what the latest developments were other than to say, “It is my personal belief this development here can only be good news for Kawartha Downs. That's my personal sense as of right now and is the reason we are postponing it.”

Cavan Monaghan Mayor Scott McFadden noted the lack of government officials at the press conference and said no news is good news.

“In light of the fact it was cancelled or delayed I do read into that positive news,” said McFadden. “Recognizing that there were no representatives here from the province or any of the ministries for formal announcements, I have to garner from that that, hopefully, there is some positive news going on in the background.

“Everyone has to address the white elephant in the room” said McFadden. “it's election time. So given that something has all of a sudden come up, whatever it was that Orazio was about to say, clearly someone doesn't want to hear it and they want an opportunity to have further discussions.”

With the Slots at Kawartha Downs set to move to Peterborough when a new casino opens the viability of Kawartha Downs has been thrown into question. Valente requested 44 race dates at the track this year to try to increase revenues but was granted 18, the same number as 2017.

McFadden believes that may have something to do with the latest developments.

“I expect,” said McFadden. “The government is jumping in at some point here to ensure there are positive news announcements coming forward in the very near future or that the negotiations are taking place to try to secure something for the long-term at Kawartha Downs.”

Local Ontario Harness Horse Association rep David Gibson said he came to the track expecting bad news.

“Maybe the fact this press conference was scheduled has changed some of the attitude of what's going on with the government in negotiating with the race tracks,” said Gibson.

Gibson expected Valente to announce the end of racing at the Downs following the 2018 season.

“I know the management here has been working hard to try to secure race dates for our future,” he said, “but given the fact the slots will likely be leaving here and moving to Peterborough makes it very hard to think that this facility will stay open. You hear all the rumours of the things that are going on behind the scenes. I don't really want to speculate but I would think, like they said in the announcement they read, there could be a significant announcement later on. I would have to think that has to be better than what was going to be announced today.”

Jeff Leal, Peterborough MPP and minister or agriculture, food and rural affairs, said he's not aware of any developments in the past 24 hours regarding Kawartha Downs.

“Any questions about why they cancelled it, they are the only ones who can answer that,” said Leal, who said he's not talked to Valente or anyone at Kawartha Downs “for a significant period of time..

“What I can say is our government continues to have ongoing discussions on the long-term sustainability at our 15 race tracks across Ontario including Kawartha Downs,” said Leal. “We're committed to working with Kawartha Downs to find a sustainable solution. Horse racing remains a top priority for myself.

“From my perspective ongoing discussions is always a positive.”

McFadden said he's confident Valente is doing everything he can to secure KD's future as a harness facility.

“I have confidence in Orazio and his leadership here at Kawartha Downs to do whatever he possibly can to insure the long-term viability of Kawartha Downs,” said McFadden. “I know he has the best interests of the track and the harness racers.”

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