Connect with us

Horse Racing

Sask. ESAA seeks control of Marquis Downs to reestablish horse racing in city

Published

on

Article content

Nearly three years after thoroughbread horse racing was declared dead in Saskatoon, a local organization has bold plans to bring the industry back to life.

The Saskatchewan Equine Sport and Agricultural Association (ESAA) has unveiled what it calls an “ambitious plan to establish the foremost equine sporting facility in Saskatchewan.”

The initiative by the non-profit organization will involve a formal request for control of the Marquis Downs racetrack and its supporting structures, as well as a plan to offer a slate of year-round events and activities.

Advertisement 2

Article content

“I thought that this would be our chance to finally return the facility — and the other ag structures — to the people who would use it for its intended purpose,” said Nicole Hein, a prominent local horse racing advocate and director of the ESAA.

Prairieland Park Corporation announced the permanent cancellation of horse racing at the track in 2021, followed by plans to bring an expansion Canadian Premier League soccer franchise to Saskatoon and develop a multi-million-dollar, 5,000-seat stadium on the site of the racetrack.

This past September, however, Prairieland said those plans were no longer moving ahead. Prairieland cited inflation, interest rates and construction costs as the main reasons for shelving the stadium project.

Hein said the ESAA intends to contact Prairieland Park in early 2024 to discuss subletting the property. Such a move would help ensure the province’s agricultural heritage is protected, and that taxpayer’s property remains in good condition and can be used for all purposes for which it was intended, she said.

She feels “it is very clear” that Prairieland does not want to be in the business of agriculture and would rather focus on events, Hein added.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

“We would like to see Prairieland work with us and the city to ensure that the community’s interests are put first, not just their own.”

The Marquis Downs racetrack, once home to world-record-holding jockey Tim Moccasin, has been left to the birds and the weeds with plans for a professional soccer stadium put on hold indefinitely. Photo taken in Saskatoon, Sask. on Wednesday, September 6, 2023.
The Marquis Downs racetrack has been left to the birds and the weeds with plans for a professional soccer stadium put on hold indefinitely. Photo taken in Saskatoon on Sept. 6, 2023. Photo by Michelle Berg /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

The request would allow the organization to use both the track and the Prairieland Ag Center to promote events 12 months a year, from horse racing to polocrosse, school field trips to a community garden, equine educational seminars and demonstrations to sleigh rides and more, she said.

Hein said the ESAA will ask Prairieland to put back the rail, lights and posts that were dismantled or removed in recent years. It will also ask the city to order Prairieland to repair any damage caused by leaving the grandstand unheated in recent years.

“There really is so much potential at that site that is mostly going to waste,” Hein said.

“I would be proud of my community if everyone came together to accomplish this goal. After all, the success of ESAA would benefit people from all over Saskatchewan, across multiple disciplines, and bring our city closer to our historical ag roots.”

Hein said she believes the initiative should be supported by city council and the provincial government, for its ability to create jobs, entertainment, education and economic activity for the entire province “while reinforcing our agricultural roots and supporting future generations of ag in Saskatchewan.”

Advertisement 4

Article content

The ESAA is also in discussions with industry stakeholders whose partnerships “are crucial” to ensure the sustainability of such a venture, Hein added.

A rendering of a proposed soccer stadium at Prairieland Park in Saskatoon (Prairieland Park)
A rendering of a proposed soccer stadium at Prairieland Park in Saskatoon (Prairieland Park)

The decision by Prairieland to cancel horse racing at the track ended a half-century of racing at the facility, which opened in 1969. Thoroughbreds last ran at the track in 2019; the 2020 and 2021 seasons were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have fought for horse racing in the past, and obviously want to see it succeed,” Hein said.

“I have been fighting for the preservation of this property for years, not necessarily for personal reasons. I truly believe in the value of this initiative for the residents of Saskatoon and beyond. If this goes through, it will be something spectacular. I know it.”

SASKATOON, SASK - December 19, 2023 - 1220 news marquis downs - Horse racing advocate Nicole Hein stands in front of the ruins of the Marquis Downs racetrack. She has started an organization that proposes to revive the horse racing facility. Photo taken in Saskatoon, Sask. on Tuesday, December 19, 2023. (Michelle Berg / Saskatoon StarPhoenix)
Horse racing advocate Nicole Hein stands in front of the ruins of the Marquis Downs racetrack. She has started an organization that proposes to revive the horse racing facility. Photo taken in Saskatoon on Dec. 19, 2023. (Michelle Berg / Saskatoon StarPhoenix) Photo by Michelle Berg /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Recommended from Editorial

The Saskatoon StarPhoenix has created an Afternoon Headlines newsletter that can be delivered daily to your inbox so you are up to date with the most vital news of the day. Click here to subscribe.

With some online platforms blocking access to the journalism upon which you depend, our website is your destination for up-to-the-minute news, so make sure to bookmark TheStarPhoenix.com and sign up for our newsletters so we can keep you informed. Click here to subscribe.

Article content

Continue Reading