Horse group prefers track in Fredericton, but not opposed to satellite location

Guy Barbara is president of Horse Racing New Brunswick. Last month the group urged its members to flood the Fredericton Exhibition with enough members to influence board elections and control future decision-making.  (Submitted by Guy Barbara - image credit)
Guy Barbara is president of Horse Racing New Brunswick. Last month the group urged its members to flood the Fredericton Exhibition with enough members to influence board elections and control future decision-making. (Submitted by Guy Barbara - image credit)

Horsing Racing New Brunswick says its first choice is to keep the track in Fredericton and resume racing at the downtown location.

But the group's president, Guy Barbara, said they're also open to a satellite location outside Fredericton that would include a track — and he thinks the city should help pay for a new facility with the money it will make from a housing development planned for a portion of the 31-acre site.

"That property has had horse racing and agricultural events for over 100 years. We would like for it to stay the same," Barbara told Information Morning Fredericton.

He thinks housing and harness racing can co-exist.

"We could have barns with housing above it and we could accommodate 200 or 300 new units there, and those units would have a great view of a nice green space, which is a track."

Julianne Hazlewood/CBC
Julianne Hazlewood/CBC

The city and the board of the New Brunswick Provincial Exhibition have agreed to develop part of the 31-acre downtown property for badly needed housing. Roughly 15 acres would be used for the development while the rest would remain as is, preserving much of the land and nearly all of the activities — but not harness racing.

That prompted Horse Racing New Brunswick to urge its members last month to flood the exhibition group, commonly called FREX, with enough members to influence board elections and control future decision-making.

That resulted in 250 new membership applications by the Dec. 30 deadline. The board started the year with about 150 members.

Barbara isn't sure how many of the new members are motivated to return racing to Fredericton, but he said a "fair percentage of them" are friends, family or members of the horse racing group.

Despite the discussion at that December meeting that was broadcast live on the internet, Barbara insists that "getting members on the board was never about being confrontational."

Google Maps
Google Maps

He said the "goal is not to upend [the housing development]. Our goal is to basically state that we're here, we would rather the track stay, we would rather housing be built around the track, but you know we are willing to think of other other options."

He said the group has always been open and "honest about our intentions," and their first choice is for harness racing to resume at the Fredericton exhibition grounds.

The city of Fredericton, however, confirmed on Friday that current bylaw zoning does not permit harness racing on the property.

The horse racing group's second choice is for a new location outside the city.

Maria Jose Burgos/CBC News
Maria Jose Burgos/CBC News

Because the sale of the land and development of a large housing project will be "a big windfall for the city," Barbara said the city should help pay to relocate harness racing.

"We are not against development ... if the lands can be used for a better use, it should," he said.

"If we're not going to be there, we would love to see a 100-, 200-acre tract of land outside the city that has an equine centre on it, but not just for harness racing. We would love to have our track and our barns, but we would love to share it with draft horses and mini horses and hunter/jumpers and then cattle."

Housing vs. horsing

Earlier this week, the executive director of the New Brunswick Provincial Exhibition, which was previously known as the Fredericton Exhibition or FREX, said he isn't sure which of the competing issues the 250 new applicants support — new housing or a return to harness racing.

Mike Vokey said their motivation likely won't become apparent until the annual general meeting in the spring, although he said they could call for a special meeting to be held before the AGM.

On Friday, Barbara said his group doesn't plan to do anything before the AGM, which is normally held in April or May.