Sikura: Restitution ‘Necessary and Justified’ for Ontario Breeders
R. Glenn Sikura owns and operates Hill ‘N' Dale Canada, a perennial leading consignor in Toronto representing many Canadian clients selling in the U.S. The farm has a small racing stable and does a limited amount of select boarding.
Sikura is active within the Canadian Thoroughbred industry, sitting as President of the CTHS Ontario, Past President/current Director of the CTHS National division, Past President/current Director of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, Past President/current Director of OHRIA, and sits as a Member of the Jockey Club of Canada.
He submitted the following editorial on the travails facing the Ontario breeding and racing industries.
The opinions expressed below are mine and mine alone. None of what I have written is on behalf of any group or board that I represent nor has it been reviewed or edited by anyone other than myself.
Let me first state that I have never heard anyone from government comment negatively towards the Ontario breeding sector. In short, when the province took aim at the Slots At Racetracks Program, breeders apparently were never an intended target. That being said, the reality is that Ontario's breeders are on the front lines of a battle we did not create and have been hit harder than any other sector. We are collateral damage and thus far have been treated like the proverbial “red headed step child” by our elected officials and their representatives.
The 2013 Canadian Premier Yearling Sale has recently concluded and the results were crushing. By my estimation about 80% of the yearlings offered in the “Selected” portion of the sale were sold at a loss. The Open portion of the sale was even worse. While incredibly disappointing, perhaps this should not be entirely surprising. Fact: the Keeneland September Yearling Sale was flourishing as my fingers hit the keys to my computer.
In large part the irresponsible, irrational and reprehensible actions of the Ontario government (under Premier McGuinty and Finance Minister Dwight Duncan), have resulted in the financial and emotional devastation of several of the provinces breeders (seemingly more will follow). The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation and its ill-fated modernization strategy were willing accomplices under the leadership of Paul Godfrey. Losing your way of life and your economic viability is quite an exactor to digest.
While breeders and others in the horse industry have done their best to trudge forward it is noteworthy that Mssrs. McGuinty and Duncan simply bailed out on the Province, opting for a generous pension at taxpayers expense. As for Mr. Godfrey, he was given his walking papers by our current Premier, his ridiculous and unpopular vision for this once mighty economic Province never to be realized.
With regards to this year's sale, there were double digit declines in averages for the second consecutive year, ridiculously high RNA rates and the fleeing of many non-Ontario Sired yearlings to American vendues (hence the lack of foreign participation).
Time and time again industry representatives have asked the government to send investors a timely message (before the Yearling Sale not after), that this crisis, that was of their creation, will have a solution that will lead to the long term stability of our once proud business. You don't have to have a PHD in Economics to understand that uncertainty does not create an appropriate investment climate. Trust between industry and government will take a long time to be regained; “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.”
”Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”, is a famous quote attributed to George Santaya and it has been co-opted by many others. While industry representatives remain willing to do whatever they can to work through the multitude of issues that have been created, I will personally never forget the treachery that was inflicted upon Ontario's horse racing and breeding industry.
￼￼It was approximately 18 months or so ago when the Drummond Report called for a “review” of SARP as one of his few hundred recommendations. As our Finance Minister cherry picked his way through the document, he focused on and embellished this recommendation to the point where he called for SARP's cancellation.
There was no need for consultation or study of this hugely successful partnership, after all our industry could seemingly be easily villainized. With the correct combination of misinformation and rhetoric surely the public would buy in to the false notion that everyone in the horse industry had unimaginable wealth and our $345,000,000 “subsidy” would be better off utilized in health care and education.
A lot has happened since those darkest days. The horse industry has made great inroads into educating the government and the public as to our true value within the Ontario economy. We have received a stay of execution from Premier Wynne and the OMAFRA Panel has been working towards solutions.
While I do not accept the premise that SARP was in need of a major overhaul, I accept that we will be moving forward under a new reality. As Panel member John Snobelen has said, “government, like horses, aren't very good at going backwards”.
Speaking of the Panel, they have put in many hours of hard work while being well compensated for their time. Those in the horse industry would like to make that same claim but unfortunately that is not our reality. So much of our future is resting in the hands of the Panel and their recent recommendations to government. We have to hope that the document that they have produced is favourable and if so
that it is well received and accepted as such. Anything less will lead to further irreparable harm.
There are many facts that are undeniable and will need to be dealt with including but not limited to the following:
The sales market has been devastated. Breeders have lost millions of dollars and many are either on the brink of complete failure or are well beyond that point. There simply must be an opportunity for commercial breeders to earn a living.
The industry's breed association (CTHS) has taken a dramatic hit to its finances of late and is in a far inferior position to help its besieged members at a time when they need it most. In addition to considerable sums spent on the various political and educational initiatives relating to the SARP cancellation, there has been a significant decrease in revenues as sales entries and commissions have plummeted.
The foal crop and the stallion population have decreased in both size and stature and there is currently no reason to expect this to reverse. This fact will play out in a harmful manner in the future when field size is further diminished.
There has been no meaningful dialogue to date between the OLG and the horse racing and breeding industry. While horse racing and the provinces gaming corporation are supposed to be working in unison, there is still talk of putting a casino in Vaughan, just a few bus stops away from Woodbine Racetrack.
Then there is Fort Erie…
Without solutions to our issues a commentary such as this serves little purpose. While we can't be sure what the Panel's recommendations to our Premier are, and therefore at the risk of being redundant, here are some thoughts that I feel have some merit (I am not claiming ownership of all of these thoughts).
Restitution is necessary and justified. You cannot expect breeders to continue their participation under the current situation that exists and they deserve to be reimbursed for a portion of the losses inflicted upon them. One way this could be done would be for government to match the breeders' awards that are currently in play through the CTHS. In 2013 roughly 2.6 million dollars is budgeted for distribution. Providing matching funds for 2012, when the cancellation was announced, over a 5-year period, breeders would be given a well-earned financial reprieve (far less expensive than the cancellation of a gas plant).
Entries for the CTHS Mixed Sale are currently being accepted. You don't have to be the “Amazing Kreskin” to know that this sale has the potential to be a disaster of biblical proportions. With a minimum fee of $700 plus all related expenses there will be any number of horses that won't come near to covering costs. Buyers and sellers alike need to know what the landscape will look in plenty of time to make appropriate decisions. The OLG appears to have endless sums of money in their marketing budget, perhaps they could provide some for the sale and the breeders could have their fees reduced.
There should be immediate discussion on the current residency requirement. With the deadline fast approaching, it is easy to imagine both Ontarians and outsiders forgoing their Ontario eligibility and taking part in other jurisdictions who have a more friendly economic climate. Going forward we will need as many foals as possible to put on a racing card that will be well received by our patrons.
The OLG needs to sit down with the horse industry forthwith. The Premier, whom so many insiders say has a genuine interest in our industry, must force their hand if necessary. There are innumerable complimentary opportunities for the both parties if there is a willingness to co-operate. A shared vision makes sense and is long overdue.
We have been told over and over again to be patient. We have been assured that the current government and the Panel is concerned with our preservation. We have been polite and respectful, hopefully not to a fault. Without question however, we are in need of concrete and immediate solutions.
The actions of Mssrs. McGuinty, Duncan, Godfrey et al has put in peril the livelihood of thousands of hard working Ontarians within the horse racing and breeding industry (9,000 job losses thus far according to a recent article in the Guelph Mercury). Inaction or insufficient action of the current Premier and her associates will spell doom for thousands more.
I implore those who are in a position to do so to step up to your responsibilities and do the right thing directly. The E.P. Taylors, Ernie Samuels, Steve Stavro's etc., left us all a rich tradition that is world-renowned. It is worthy of preservation and enrichment.
R. Glenn Sikura,
Hill ‘N' Dale Canada owner