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Queen’s Plate future up in the air, Woodbine boss says

The head of Woodbine Entertainment Group says this year’s Queen’s Plate, Canada’s most-famous horse race, could be the last one because of the province’s plan to phase out slots at Ontario horse tracks.

The 153rd edition of the race — the oldest continuously-run stakes horse race on the continent and the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown — goes Sunday and, according to Woodbine Entertainment president Nick Eaves, the future of the $1 million race is up in the air.

“As a result of the government’s current position, premier race events such as the Queen’s Plate as well as day-to-day horse racing are in jeopardy,” he said.

Eaves announced at a breakfast event at the Woodbine racetrack Thursday that the race faces an uncertain future.

Earlier this year, the provincial government announced its plan to end the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.’s (OLG) slots at racetracks program by March 2013 as part of an effort to boost profits and modernize the agency.

The province and racetracks were in a revenue-sharing deal for the slots, which make about $350 million a year. The OLG plans to continue financial contributions to affected racetracks and surrounding communities to help them deal with the transition.

The Queen’s Plate runs at Toronto’s Woodbine racetrack. The second leg of the Triple Crown, the Prince of Wales Stakes, runs at Fort Erie on July 15 and the final leg, the Breeders’ Stakes, goes Aug. 5 at Woodbine.

In April, the OLG closed the slots at Windsor Raceway, Fort Erie and Hiawatha in Sarnia putting 560 people out of work.

In March, Sue Leslie of the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association said the slots shutdowns are the “death knell of horse racing” in the province.

On Thursday, Standardbred Breeders of Ontario Association and the Quebec Jockey Club cited the “devastation” of the industry in Quebec as a warning to Ontario. The Quebec government changed rules for video lottery terminals in racetracks and the horse racing industry shut down in the province in 2010.

With files from The Canadian Press