FROM BOB SUMMERS, BUFFALO NEWS...
Fort Erie has deal to save season
The Fort Erie Race Track's long winter of discontent is expected to take a turn for the better Thursday with the announcement that a deal has been reached to keep the track open for its 112th season of thoroughbred racing and beyond.
Details of an agreement between horsemen, track owner Nordic Gaming Corp. and the Town of Fort Erie's economic development arm are scheduled to be announced at a news conference at 9:30 a.m. at Bridgewater Country Club.
Officials were mum on Wednesday, but a person close to the negotiations told The Buffalo News that the financially troubled Ontario track — which has been on the verge of permanent shutdown since the end of the 2008 season — will open May 2, Kentucky Derby Day, for a 78-date season, mostly on a Sunday, Monday and Tuesday schedule until late October.
The 11th-hour deal comes just four days before the March 16 "drop-dead" deadline set by the Ontario Racing Commission for track management to decide whether to apply for renewal of its racing license.
More than 220 employees who work on the racing side of the facility were scheduled to face permanent layoff at the end of March. The facility's 350 employees on the casino side were not given layoff notices but officials for the horsemen's group insisted the law requires that the casino — run by the Province of Ontario — must be shut down if the track surrenders its racing license.
The last-minute deal still does not ensure a successful season since many of the Fort's regular horsemen have already made plans to race elsewhere or leave the business entirely.
"The challenge now will be to get enough horses," the person familiar with the situation said.