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Friday, September 26, 2014

The Raceway at The Western Fair District gearing up for big Opening Night

By Dave Briggs for The Raceway at Western Fair District

London, September 26, 2014 -- A long list of Opening Night promotions will be on tap Friday, Oct. 3 when The Raceway at The Western Fair District in London, Ont. opens its 2014-15 live racing season.

Fans can take a spin around the half-mile oval in a double-seated jog cart with the Wanna Ride team, take part in a Survivor Handicapping Challenge, catch the Racing Under Saddle 2014 finale, take advantage of special Opening Night pricing in the Top of the Fair restaurant and even get their first bet for free thanks to the First Bet Is On Us promotion. There will also be prize giveaways and the track’s regular Friday promotions such as Deal or no Deal, The Fun Wheel and Trivia.

Raceway Manager Greg Blanchard said he can’t wait to get the meet started.

“We’ve gone through a turbulent couple of years, but I think we’ve weathered the storm well and we’re really excited to be back in action this year,” Blanchard said.

The Raceway at The Western Fair District will race on Mondays and Tuesdays at 6:15 p.m. and Fridays at 7:05 p.m. this fall and will add Wednesdays to the schedule in the new year.

Track announcer Shannon “Sugar” Doyle is back calling the action at The Raceway. He moved to London at the start of the 2013-14 meet after calling races in Alberta for many years.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Doyle said. “Coming into last season it was a whole new venue, new horses and names and drivers and everything else. Everything was new. I’ve got a handle on it now going into this meet and I’m feeling good. I know what to expect this time around. I’m hoping to be sharp right out of the gate.”

New this year is a Pick-3 wager on the first three races of every card in addition to two, Pick-4 wagers guaranteed at $5,000 apiece and two Super Hi-5 bets. All of those wagers have a takeout rate of 15 per cent.

At the start of its 2012-13 meet, Western Fair became the first Ontario track to introduce the Super Hi-5 bet, a wager that has proven popular there, at Toronto’s Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) and elsewhere.

“Last year on at least a couple of occasions we generated pools in excess of $30,000 of new money. For a track of our size that’s a big pool. With that new money, a couple of times we had total pools of $40,000 and $50,000. So, when we get that carryover, it generates a lot of excitement and a lot of buzz,” Blanchard said, adding WEG did a lot of the legal legwork to get the Super Hi-5 wager — which WEG calls the Jackpot Hi-5 — approved in the first place. WEG launched the bet in October of 2013.

As for other improvements to The Raceway at The Western Fair District, Blanchard said fans will receive a warm welcome in the lobby thanks to an improved customer service area designed to be a strong initial point of contact with patrons, including the addition of a betting terminal right next to the customer service desk.

Gone is the old infield tote board and concrete stage, which was replaced by a winner’s circle near the end of the 2013-14 meet.

“Initially, we’ll have large flat-screened TVs placed outside in the grandstand so people can access odds,” Blanchard said. “We have two digital countdown clocks so people will be able to track minutes to post.”

Betting customers making their first trip to the track since the last live meet ended in May will also see a marked improvement in The Raceway at The Western Fair District’s tote system. As a member of the eight-track Ontario Standardbred Alliance, the London track received an upgrade in June to the same AmTote system used by WEG.

“We were overdue for an upgrade to a newer operating system. When we became part of the Alliance, by default we received an upgrade,” Blanchard said. “We’re getting good feedback early on from our customers on that.”

He said there have been other advantages to being part of the Standardbred Alliance, especially with WEG at the helm.

“Woodbine’s been great to help all of our tracks promote our events. When we did the Molson Pace they did a lot of promotion throughout their various platforms. On Opening Night they’re going to be heavily involved again and one of the initiatives is the First Bet Is On Us program. They’ve done that at Grand River on their big day, they did it at Georgian recently. It’s really popular and it’s really slick, so that’s going to be a nice addition for Opening Night.”

Overall, Blanchard said he’s hoping for a safe meet for the track’s participants and growth in both handle and attendance on the business side.

“We’d like to see some new faces out at the track this year. That’s one of the goals, certainly, of the Alliance,” Blanchard said.