How one horse can leave its hoof print on the P.E.I. economy

Mike McGuigan, with his horse Redland Peaches, says he can feel the 'buzz' of the 2024 harness racing season. (Stacey Janzer/CBC - image credit)
Mike McGuigan, with his horse Redland Peaches, says he can feel the 'buzz' of the 2024 harness racing season. (Stacey Janzer/CBC - image credit)

The P.E.I. harness racing season got underway this month. It's a time driver Mike McGuigan looks forward to every year.

"There's a buzz through the summer and you're starting to feel it now," he said.

"It's a long winter with no racing and the weather's getting a little better and you can feel the excitement that the races started."

Drivers and trainers like McGuigan aren't the only ones feeling the excitement.

That's something the marketing people at Charlottetown Driving Park at Red Shores want people to know in their ad campaign.

It's everyone from the owners to the farmers who feed the horses and stablehands who clean the stalls.

Lee Drake, manager of racing for Red Shores, says it takes 216 support staff to keep racing on track at the park, in addition to the blacksmiths and veterinarians who work regularly with the horses.

Red Shores, with properties in Charlottetown and Summerside, employs more than 200 people. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

There's also fans who pay to watch and, if they're lucky,  win.

"We really have to tell our story, that one race horse really does touch many, many Islanders and many different forms of employment and helps the economy," he said.

"We've seen great growth over the last couple of years, record-breaking sales, more people getting involved in the ownership side of the business …  it's a big circle of economic impact here on Prince Edward Island."

Lee Drake, manager of racing for Red Shores, says there has been 'great growth' in the industry over the past few years. (Tony Davis/CBC)

Red Shores is operated by the Atlantic Lottery Corporation, which is jointly owned by the four Atlantic Provinces. Each province has lottery and gaming legislation in place.

P.E.I. is represented by the Prince Edward Island Lotteries Commission. Its annual report shows Red Shores had revenues of more than $22 million in 2023.

From the funds ALC generated in 2023, $4,371,000 was used to assist the P.E.I. Harness Racing Industry Association in growing the industry and making it more sustainable, according to the annual report.

The commission also supports the industry in the form of grants related to sales taxes due from pari-mutuel wagering in the amount of $420,172.

Corey MacPherson says it's easy to get involved in the harness racing industry. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

Drake said that big stakes races, and the Gold Cup and Saucer week in August, draw tens of thousands of tourists in the summer, who fill their gas tanks on the Island, stay in local hotels and eat at local restaurants..

Driver and trainer Corey MacPherson loves what he does. His grandfather introduced him to the sport decades ago and he's been hooked ever since.

He said it's easy for anyone to get involved.

"The simplest way to get into horses is show up at a barn and somebody will always have something for you to do. And most barns are very welcoming and if you wanna come pet the horses, talk to the horses. Just make sure when you get there, don't come on in, but make sure there's somebody to greet you and it's very simple."