Harness racing to debut at Saturday’s horse races at Desert Park
Harness racing will be added as a new event at Desert Park on Saturday for the second of two horse racing days this year.
The addition of harness racing means there will be three different horse breeds on one race card, said Carol Youngberg, president of the Desert Park Exhibition Society.
The races start at 1:30 p.m. Admission is $5.
Two harness exhibition races with six horses each have been carded for Osoyoos starting around 5 p.m. following the thoroughbreds.
The day also features four thoroughbred races and one quarter horse race with between five and seven horses in each race, Youngberg said.
Harness racing is done with standard breeds while the track horses are thoroughbreds and quarter horses, she said.
“These are what we call trotters so the pace of the horse is most important,” said Youngberg. “The stride of the horse must be consistent all the time in order to pull the buggy. Speed and co-ordination is what they teach those horses and that’s what makes the race interesting.”
The betting system will also be different from the pari-mutuel betting used for the thoroughbreds and quarter horses, Youngberg said.
“It’s what we call a box betting system and one winner takes all,” she said. “The prize money is divided up between all the bettors. It’s a very simple system.”
The addition of harness racing is an experiment on behalf of the Harness Racing B.C. to see if it is popular, she said. Harness racing could be held in Osoyoos during the summer leaving Cloverdale to hold winter harness racing.
Races are held at Fraser Downs between September and April.
Harness racing was held at Vernon in the middle of the 20th century and was also popular in other parts of the B.C. Interior, Youngberg said.
The track will need to be packed before the harness racing to prepare it, she added.
Another possible event on Saturday is a one-mile race that would involve thoroughbred horses going around the track twice, Youngberg said.
It will depend on obtaining enough horses to participate, she added.
As at previous Osoyoos race days, there will be a competition for the best-dressed spectator. There is also a draw of admission tickets for a donated prize.
There has been discussion of holding some rodeo events at the races, but it won’t be done this time, Youngberg said.
“It’s sort of our plan for the future … to make the race day a little more interesting for everyone who attends instead of just coming to bet on the horses,” she said.
Purse money has been increased thanks to provincial government funding of $20,000 for this race day, up from $11,000.
Although there was a shortage of horses and riders for this year’s June races, Youngberg is optimistic that Saturday’s races will have the required numbers.
“We are racing on what we call a dark day for Hastings,” she said, meaning that no races are being held on Saturday at the Hastings Racetrack in Vancouver.
Work has not yet begun on restoring old bleachers, but Youngberg said an engineer’s report has been completed and they can be fixed. The society wants to gauge the popularity of thoroughbred and harness racing before making the financial commitment to do the work, she said.
There is interest in using Desert Park for other events if the bleachers are repaired, but the society is not able to commit at this time, Youngberg added.
The society has been working and communicating with owners and trainers over the past two years to find out what works in the horse racing industry, Youngberg said.
“That’s what we’re trying to accomplish,” said Youngberg. “It’s been longer getting organized than what we had anticipated when we started this, but now we feel we’ve got a pretty good handle on it. We’re working together with Hastings Park trying to get their schedule in place for 2015 … so we’re not taking away from their event and they’re helping us field our events.”