As horse racing grows in popularity, fans hope for more government investment

Hundreds gathered at Leamington Raceway at the Leamington Fairgrounds Sunday afternoon to enjoy a once highly popular pastime in Windsor-Essex: horse racing.

Some fans say the interest was never lost.

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Brant Cowan has been coming to horse races for about forty years. He said he bets only a few dollars but chooses to attend the races for the entertainment.

"I think the government has got to look at it as a family-oriented thing and keep all these horses and people working in the industry," said Cowan.

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Sammy Youssef has been attending horse races since the 1980s.

"Live racing is excellent," said Youssef. "Now they got them in the teletheatre ... it's not as good as when you're here live."

He said he's also noticed a growth in attendance at the race track.

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Youssef said he enjoys Leamington Raceway, but misses Windsor's Raceway, which closed in 2012.

"They [had] a lot more horses, a lot more purse money, and a lot more trainers and drivers." 

Mark Williams, a driver and the president of the Lakeshore Horse Racing Association, said there is "no comparison" between Windsor Raceway and Leamington's.

"Windsor Raceway was the second highest betting jurisdiction in all of Canada for years. ... We went from 100 races down to 13," said Williams.

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The Ontario government cancelled the Slots at Racetracks Program in 2012, marking the end of Windsor Raceway.

Leamington Raceway kicked off their 13-week season earlier this month, offering free admission and free parking.

'Political will'

"We're already proving that we're overflowing at this grandstand and the people are coming to absolutely support us in a big way," said Williams, adding "it will take political will" to expand the raceway.

"But, racing is racing. At least we have some."