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In case you wager on the ponies…

Dermod Travis on the horse racing industry

From the deaths of 30 horses at California’s Santa Anita Park this racing season, to last month’s raid at Vancouver’s Hastings Racecourse by the Canadian Border Security Agency (CBSA), the sport of kings is taking a beating this summer.

And once again it seems either the whistleblower or law enforcement is placed on the hot seat.

The reaction to the raid isn’t dissimilar to some of the criticisms coming out of the B.C. legislature this year, which can all be pretty well summed up as: “the nasty man in the hat is picking on my chums.”

The condition seems catchy – take David Milburn’s reaction – a long-time horse owner and the president of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association of B.C. (HBPABC) – as an example of some of the fall-out to the CBSA raid.

“It was wrong what they did. It was wrong to come on the track, to handcuff these people, to take them into custody only to release them back into the community in 48 hours,” Milburn told reporters.

For added flourish Milburn added: “Border agents had photos of who they were looking for and were unnecessarily abrasive.”

The alternative approach to a raid does have some drawbacks.

It might sound something like this: “Just a reminder guys the CBSA plans to conduct a raid here tomorrow at 6:00 a.m. Since they were kind enough to set an appointment with us, the least you can do is be in your rooms, showered and ready for arrest by, say, 5:45 a.m. at the latest.”

Whatever happened to the simple: “We will, of course, be cooperating fully with the investigation and see absolutely no need for investigators to secure warrants for any documents from us, so we can get to the bottom of this as soon as possible. Mi-casa-es-tu-casa.” (Spanish for “My house is your house”)

Milburn isn’t the only Milburn in the horse racing industry.

His brother, Peter Milburn, was appointed deputy finance minister in 2011, a position he held until early 2016.

From 2013 to 2017, the finance ministry had oversight of the B.C. Lottery Corporation, which, in turn, has oversight of B.C.’s horse racing industry.

Peter has owned, and owns, race horses competing at Hastings as recently as last month.

If I may, his horses seem to do much better than David’s, in case you wager on the ponies.

The sport of kings may be the purview of gentry, but a government handout is still a handout worth taking.

Can you remember what you got for Christmas in 2012? The horse racing industry can.

Five days before Christmas the then-minister responsible for the industry, Rich Coleman, announced “an additional allotment of funding designed to ensure the successful revitalization of the industry” through an increase in the percentage of on-track slot machine revenues by increasing the percentage from 15.5 per cent to 25 per cent.

Coleman called the industry “an important employment generator in the agricultural and entertainment industries,” although, to be fair, he didn’t specifically say that British Columbians would be the sole beneficiaries of that employment generation.

“The total funding amount is estimated to be approximately $10 million and will go toward ensuring that purse amounts are commensurate with industry standards.”

Who were some of the big winners with those new industry-standard purses?

Between 2012 and 2018, more than half (56.8 per cent) of the $19.5 million in track earnings for owners went to just six B.C. owners: Canmor Farms (3.5 per cent), Rob and Sheena Maybin (3.9 per cent), Redekop family (8.6 per cent), Mr. & Mrs. R. J. Bennett (10 per cent), Swift Thoroughbreds Inc. (15 per cent) and North American Thoroughbred Horse Company (15.9 per cent).

According to the North American Thoroughbred Horse Company’s website: “In 2009, Glen (Todd) and thoroughbred partner, Patrick Kinsella, led Hastings Park Racecourse results with an outstanding 41-wins…they own or co-own over fifty horses, with the majority racing at Hastings.”

Since 2005, five of the six owners have donated $2 million to the B.C. Liberal party.

Did donating to the Liberals make their horses run faster?

No. But the odds of Liberal party supporters taking some freshly-sweetened purses home are certainly in the donor’s favour.

Come to think of it, maybe the CBSA isn’t the alleged villain in all of this after all?

Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC www.integritybc.ca

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