The end of one era can only happen with the beginning of another. Such is the case this past October as Alberta saw an end to racing at Northlands Park in Edmonton, Alberta. This historic racetrack used to host some of the most notable races, horsemen, and horses the industry had to offer. A backstretch that once saw the likes of Cam Fella, his son Camluck, Matts Scooter and Artsplace, and races such as the Stewart Fraser Memorial, and Breeders Crown, an invitational that attracted horses from across North America, now looks more like the site of nuclear fall out, than a world class racing facility. Now, after 118 years of racing history, it finally closes its doors. For so many within the industry, Northlands Park is now barely but a whisper of what it used to be. The ceiling leaks, the stalls are falling apart and missing boards, the floors are uneven and full of holes, there’s a shockingly healthy rodent population, and the barns as a whole cannot be described as anything other than stale, run down, and simply neglected. The sad reality is that despite the many milestones and memories that live within its walls, and the attachment, sentiment and nostalgia many horsemen and racing fans feel when they think of Northlands Park – it’s time.
However, in spite of the state of decay Northlands has been allowed to fall into over the past number of years there is a breath of fresh air in the province, and a glimmer of a bright future that is captured by the emergence of the new Century Mile Racetrack & Casino.
Still under construction, Century Mile is set to open in April of 2019. Welcoming its first season of Thoroughbred racing that summer, followed by the inaugural Harness Racing meet in September. With a minimum of 100 race days per year, and approximately 800 stalls with room for additional stabling already set aside, the team behind Century Mile is not only prepared, but adamantly working to bring great things to the horse racing industry in Alberta.
After spending the summer driving past the Century Mile site on Hwy II, it was an absolute delight for members of the press and industry representatives to be invited on site to watch the first horses step onto the freshly laid surface of the homestretch. For the longest time, what appeared to be another dirt field with some non-descript frame work off to one side, now resembles an actual racetrack. Walking along what will soon be the trackside tarmac, the Racing Entertainment Center (REC) has begun to look like the artistic renderings released months ago. There are two barns. And parking lots. And the beginnings of an outdoor paddock, with the soon to be coveted winners circle. It’s real. It’s happening. And the timing couldn’t be better.
The space within the REC can only be described as dynamic. The second floor features windows that run along the entire side of the building giving race fans and patrons an uninhibited view of the racing action. Next to the second floor restaurant is a trio of suites, complete with their own balconies, which can be opened up and combined to create a space capable of accommodating larger parties.
Presently there are two barns on site. One that’s fully winterized, and in addition to stabling houses the indoor paddock, vet area, & retention barn. And a second summer barn of another 400 or so stalls that will be covered, but primarily left open for optimal airflow. Both barns will house heated offices and washrooms.
That’s all great, and sounds like a dream come true for the industry. But what about the track itself? After all, without a track, we have no horse racing. This is where things get exciting.
Designed by Steve Wood of Trackmaster, the track itself as stated by the facility name, is a mile in circumference. It’s been designed for optimum safety, and has excellent drainage to accommodate the ever-challenging Alberta weather. With layers of clay and drain rock separated by geotextile cloth to prevent contamination and movement, topped with six inches of limestone for Harness Racing, followed by six inches of a sand and mulch mixture for the Thoroughbreds, the surface is designed to keep the footing where we need it – on the track – and excess moisture off the track. All in, the entire surface structure of the Century Mile track consists of 1100 truck loads of material.
But that’s not it. The interior of the track is lined with specialized tile to allow water to drain and travel through pipes directly to the retention ponds. The water gathered in these ponds can then be collected, via a reservoir, and utilized to maintain the racing surface itself as needed. All of the products used to build the track surface are from local sources.
Thanks to tighter turns similar to those found on a 7/8thmile track, Century Mile features a longer homestretch, which will encourage and provide an advantage to more strategic and skilled drivers & jockeys. While the inside rail is not removable, it is designed to minimize impact and injuries to both horses and humans should an accident occur. (The same system can been found at tracks such as Churchill Downs, Keeneland, & Gulfstream Park) And the pylons for the harness racing meet will be placed approximately 10 feet off the inside rail, to allow for an escape lane. Furthermore, bases and electrical for the track lights are already installed, with the addition of the lights themselves expected to be added September 2019, perfect for fall/winter night racing.
While Alberta has seen a number of great horses, horsemen, and races pass through over a number of decades of horse racing history; there are an indescribable number of things to come, and a brilliant future to look forward to. Moving forward into this next era will take an immense amount of work, determination, and resilience from the racetracks, horsemen, and racing fans alike, but we’re off to a stellar start with Century Mile.