Letter to the Editor: John Sikura

John Sikura | Keeneland

I grew up in the 'Golden Age' of Canadian racing and breeding. Windfields, Sam Son and Stafford Farms are a few great breeders that come to mind. Thriving yearling sales and horses like Deputy Minister, Kennedy Road and Kamar also come to mind. Founded by the great E.P. Taylor, the consistent goal was a thriving industry with stewards of the turf to elevate Woodbine to the highest standards of thoroughbred racing. Secretariat made his final start at Woodbine and the most influential sire of my lifetime, Northern Dancer, was born in Oshawa Ontario.

I found the letter that Dave Anderson wrote in the TDN to be concerning. It has been a common theme in recent years to drive profits, sell racetracks and keep horsemen in the dark while adopting a mentality of full fields, cheaper racing and ignoring backside capital improvements. Purse allocations that do not reward 'quality' or provide opportunities for black-type further the denigration of quality and create more reliance on restrictive racing. I left Woodbine several years ago due to lack of such opportunities. I have returned to Woodbine this year with several 2-year-old fillies while not aware the MSW purses will be reduced.

While the recent history of the government 'takeover' of the Woodbine slots program by the government of Ontario proved short-sighted, they have agreed to fund racing and set up many programs that help the industry in becoming self-sustaining. I would hope that a collaborative, not combative, approach such as forbidding Woodbine horses from running at Fort Erie would circumvent the trend of us-versus-them all too prevalent today.

There has not been a commitment to build a new sales facility (the current pavilion is more than 50 years old) nor promote or incentivize Ontario breeders from offering their best at the CTHS sale. If the intent is to increase field size and grow a crop of yearlings that represent the best in Ontario, that is a great way to start.

I left Ontario for Kentucky more than 40 years ago and have continued to race and foal mares in Ontario. I have close ties to the province and have heard consistently that there has been a shift towards operating in private and not transparently with regards to how the monetization of Woodbine land will or will not affect purses and what this long-term vision will do for racing. Woodbine was created for the betterment of racing and to foster a proud history of breed-changing influence. It cannot turn into another version of profit maximization (they are not a for-profit entity), but rather needs become their own version of Keeneland where racing and the respect for horsemen go hand-in-hand.

I no longer live in Ontario and therefore speak only as someone who grew up and learned the business in my home province. The integration of horsemen with the Woodbine board along with full disclosure of compensation and long-term plans for changes in purse structure or prohibition of inter-province racing must be a collaborative approach. The HBPA is not going away and neither is the board of directors at Woodbine. Both need assimilation of each other and not orthodoxy in their points of view.

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