Increased attendance numbers and horses, ideal track conditions and weather, and younger demographics and more families, are all factors that have made the 2014 edition of The Horses at the Evergreen Park a success, say park personnel.
The parimutel horse races wrapped up on Aug. 23 with the Grande Prairie Centennial Stakes at the Gordon Badger Stadium – the 22nd race day of the season, which all started on July 11 with the Peace Country Quarter Horse Sprint.
“We’ve got a great team starting with our racing manager Pat Hill and just a great team all around,” said Dan Gorman, general manager of Evergreen Park.
“We’ve had a goal in the last couple of years to try and find ways to get younger crowds out and more interested in racing. We certainly had more sponsorships – Don Moon (marketing and sponsorship manager) has done a great job at helping us with that. We increased the purses this year and we just tried to make it a lot more family enjoyable.”
The track is only one of three Alberta locations that features a full season of pari-mutuel horse racing, with Lethbridge and Edmonton being the others.
“We’re bringing out lots more families, which is what we’ve geared for. People are showing a great interest in the sport,” said Pat Hill, manager of racing and gaming.
“Our betting is also up over 30% and our demographics – Pat (Hill) and I have figured out that our numbers (attendance demographic) are nine years younger then they’ve been,” added Gorman, noting the races’ free admission, marketing and positive, family atmosphere as factors.
The track also held several feature races, including Sunday’s Centennial Stakes, the Triple K Oilfield Grande Prairie Derby on July 20 and the Brekkaas Vaccum and Tank Paint the Park Pink Day- Race for the Cure, on Aug. 10.
Hill says the weather and track conditions were another positive for the park this season.
“The weather was awesome this year. We only had one rain night and of course, we don’t cancel unless the jockeys determine it’s unsafe for them to ride, so we had no problems there. The track has also been in excellent shape,” she said, adding there were more than 20 extra staff hired for the race season.
Gorman says this season, they housed an estimated 480 horses and had 12-15 jockeys registered, along with more than 200 owners, trainers and groomers, who hailed from all over the world.
With the influx of horses this season, he says they had to add 50 temporary stalls for the race season.
In May, Gorman says he travelled to the Rocky Mountain Turf Club in Lethbridge, along with Hill, to personally invite the jockeys to race at Evergreen Park.
The pair did the same trip last year and Gorman says the trip and track’s reputation were reflective of the interest they received from the horse racing community.
“Evergreen Park’s track is recognized as one of the premier tracks in all of North America – not just in Alberta or Canada, but in North America,” he said.
Gorman and Hill say they have already started planning for the 2015 race season with various improvements in mind.
“We’ve actually made it our goal and our mission to re-create and regenerate the interest in horse racing in the area and the community,” said Gorman, adding a race committee was formed a few years ago with racers and others from the horse racing community to determine how to enhance the race experience.
“We have a number of different planned expansions (next season), including expanding and growing our paddock. We’re also talking about other ways to enhance our jockey experience with the dorms we have. We also have plans on trying to make it a little more enjoyable for the whole family. We have a bouncy castle area and we’re talking of expanding that and we’re hoping to increase and expand our vendor area underneath the grandstands.”
There are also plans to make improvements to the horse stalls.
Gorman and Hill say they have discussed potentially making temporary stalls. If there’s more interest next season, they say more permanent stalls will be built.
CROSS COUNTRY CLINICS,...
Who: South Peace Horse Club
What: Cross Country Clinics with Robin Hahn, Sandra Donnelly and Amy West and SPHC Trials
When: Clinics Aug. 26-28 and Trials Aug. 30-31
Where: Evergreen Park
Why: To give horse owners a chance to learn and improve cross country abilities and then to showcase their talents.