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Walter Parkinson: “It’s about everyone working towards the common goal of having a strong industry for all three breeds.”

Story: Chris Lomon
 
Walter Parkinson has been part of the Ontario horse racing scene for as long as he can remember. He sees Ontario Racing’s newly minted Board of Directors and the formation of Ontario Racing Management (ORM) as bona fide game changers for the industry.
 
On June 4, it was announced Mr. John Hayes had been named Independent Chairman of the Board for OR. In addition, there are now 10 seats, five from industry associations and five from racetracks, that comprise OR’s Board of Directors.
 
Those selected represent Ontario horse racing’s three breeds – Quarter Horse, Standardbred and Thoroughbred.
 
Parkinson (President, SBOA, on behalf of Standardbred Breeders) is joined by Bill O'Donnell (President, COSA, on behalf of Standardbred Horsepeople), Sue Leslie (President, HBPA, on behalf of Thoroughbred Horsepeople), Bob Broadstock (President, Quarter Horse Racing Owners of Ontario, on behalf of Quarter Horse Horsepeople), and Walter and Bernard McCormack (President, Cara Bloodstock, on behalf of Thoroughbred Breeders), who will represent the Associations on the board.
 
“I think there’s a lot of overlapping with all three breeds, even though you might not see it on a daily basis,” said Parkinson, who aside from his SBOA duties is also assistant manager of Seelster Farms in Lucan, ON.  “But it’s actually there. To be able to collaborate with one another is extremely important.”
 
Parkinson also points to Woodbine Entertainment Group’s leadership and expertise as a vital component in helping guide ORM’s success.
 
“I think it’s a well-rounded organization and I think Woodbine Entertainment has a strong history in managing their operation very well, which I believe will transfer over to ORM as a whole for all three breeds,” he offered. “I think there is excellent representation of all three breeds on the Board. I hope going forward that the long-terming funding plan is a solid base on which to work off of.
 
“The standardbred breeders in Ontario, specifically, the SBOA, have always had a strong relationship with WEG. I think it just further enhances standardbred breeders having an active voice in shaping our industry going forward. Having a seat at the table to be part of decisions, to keep breeders up-to-date on key issues that affect the breeding industry – that’s very important. It’s good to have that participation in ORM. There are a lot of positives going forward.”
 
It’s something Parkinson has seen first-hand on the Standardbred side over the past two years.
 
“Absolutely,” he said. “There has been an increase in the breeding numbers and sale prices for yearlings. It has been happening and I think this (ORM) just further enhances it. The people who want to be in the industry are still in it. If you want to go forward, this is the basis in which you have to do it.
 
“I tend to be more optimistic than most, but I think overall people are happier. I think that started last fall when yearling sales were good on the standardbred side. People are happy overall with the OSS (Ontario Sires Stakes program), which is a very important component for stakes racing on the standardbred side. If we can further enhance the overnight racing opportunities, than that bodes well for everybody.”
 
At the same time, Parkison also recognizes there are challenges. That said, he feels the collaborative and inclusive philosophy behind ORM will enable the industry to confidently address issues in both the short and long term.
 
“Certainly, we are seeing a horse shortage when the announcements were made in 2012 that the slots-at-racetracks program was going to be cancelled,” he noted. “We really started to see a decrease in the numbers of mares bred, so that really affects field size and the quality of horses out there. So, that’s one of the issues the organization is going to have to deal with.”
 
Strengthening the overall business to see it thrive for years to come is also a major area of focus for the ORM Board.
 
What does Parkinson see as important topics to put on the table?
 
“We want to be able to grow the business for the future, so that’s looking at different alternatives and options in growing handle, wagering and growing the fan base with the hope that those fans become participants in the industry at some level, whether it’s as an avid bettor or someone who will get involved in the ownership of a racehorse. 
 
“Long-term, it’s creating that growth. People in our sector want to see a return on their investment. You need to produce good yearlings to start with and sell them for a profitable margin. Those are all major focuses of attention at this point.”
 
For Parkinson, accepting a role on the Board was an easy decision.
 
It’s a responsibility he takes great pride in.
 
“My family had racehorses and I worked at Seelster Farm during the summers,” recalled Parkinson. “After university, I came back full time. I like to think I have a vested interest in the industry. I can’t complain about anything if I don’t try to help and assist it in any way I can. I think it’s important to step up and make it the best industry possible for the long term. It’s about everyone working towards the common goal of having a strong industry for all three breeds.”

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