Toronto, Ontario — When the Rideau Carleton Raceway paddock caught fire on February 15, the racing community in Ottawa had to act quickly to keep the race in the nation’s capital.
The team at Rideau Carleton mobilized to renovate an old barn into stables. And the race begins on April 2, after a slight two-week delay from its scheduled opening on March 19 and avoiding a severely canceled season.
Funded by Ontario Racing’s Capital Improvement Program, this renovation took a lot of effort from track officials and local riders to make it a reality.
Rideau Carleton’s Backstretch Garage Manager, Al Thibert, was recalling a cold February evening when he was out for dinner with his wife when local equestrian Ted MacDonald called to say the paddock was on fire.
“We tease each other a lot. And I’m right. And he said, ‘No, seriously, the paddock is on fire,’” said Tibert. “Maybe ten minutes later I then got a message from (Track Surface Manager) Jeff Taylor who had sent me pictures, and the (stadium) caught fire. Then I was like a holy one. I am very sad”
As the season stalled, Thibert and Taylor consulted with local riders. and devised a plan to turn the idle Barn D into a stable. They contacted Rideau Carleton general manager Peter Andrusek with the idea just days after the fire.
Impressed with the plan, Andrusek prepares to file a complaint with Ontario Racing.
“We plan the business together and Ontario Racing is 100 per cent involved,” said Andrusek.
As part of a funding agreement with the Government of Ontario, Ontario Racing allocates CAD 6 million annually for grant programs at its respective member racetracks.
Each year, the racetrack submits a detailed business plan describing the use of capital. Examples of previous funding projects at Rideau Carleton include state-of-the-art treadmill lighting systems. HD broadcast upgrades, new tote-boards First-class starter car as well as modernizing all stadiums
“All of these investments through Ontario Racing have elevated Rideau so that we can be competitive,” Andrusek said.
Although the funds are distributed according to the approved business plan. But the program has been built with the ability to adjust timelines and spending when needed in response to urgent situations. The potential impact of season-ending fires on riders’ livelihoods in eastern Ontario clearly fits the definition of an emergency.
when funding is obtained Work began to convert the disused shed into Rideau Carleton’s meeting stall.
“The only thing that was there was the roof,” Andrusek says. “There was no electricity, no water, nothing in there. We have to lay a stone foundation and build a stable. It’s just a barn that hasn’t been used for over 30 years.”
Step one was to remove three decades of accumulation from the barn.
Rideau Carleton filed a petition for equestrian assistance through the National Capital Harness Horse Association, and the response has been overwhelming. Nearly 100 volunteers attended the site and took part in the two days of cleanup.
“The vote was phenomenal and that gave us the encouragement to keep going,” Tibert said.
The hours were long and the work was hard. But eventually the stables began to take shape with Tilbert and Matt. Donald is the leader.
“We are competing today. And we raced pretty much on time because of Al,” Andrusek said. “That guy was relentless. in less than five weeks They have stalled at the level that AGCO is ready to approve. AGCO is awesome to work with.”
Trainer Robbie Robinson was one of the riders who participated in the cleanup. And continue to volunteer their time to help Thibert as construction progresses.
“It’s amazing how quickly everything is done and turned around,” says Robinson. “Kudos to Al and Matt for finishing the stables on time. They did a great job.”
Thibert is willing to work long hours because he knows how important racing is to the local community.
“Many of the riders are my friends. And it affects everyone on the track who has a job,” said Tibert. “Everyone from security to referees on the pitch. There are a lot of people involved. And if we don’t compete There are a lot of people out of work.”
All of you, Thibert, Andrusek, Donald, Robinson and others, reflecting on the long moments to salvage the 2023 season, come together on April 2nd and the camaraderie and pride felt by the launch after. Delayed only two weeks, Rideau continued throughout the meeting with Carlton.
“People support each other and get along well,” says Robinson. “A lot of people enjoyed this meeting. and due to our location So it’s more like an old school. It is a grassroots type.”
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