Re-energizing Ottawa’s Horse Racing Industry

2017 Future Star Award recipient, Brett MacDonald says he’s excited for what the Hard Rock Ottawa expansion project will do for the future of horse racing in Ontario.

The early 1960s were exciting times for the horse racing industry here in the Nation’s capital. In 1962, the Rideau Carleton Raceway opened its doors to the public and from that moment on, it was off to the races. The plan was to offer a completely cutting edge realization of the game. It made headlines as it launched a night-time Strandardbred harness program – the first of its kind in Ontario at that time.

Today, the Rideau Carleton Raceway and Casino’s commitment to Ottawa’s horse racing community is stronger than ever. The Rideau Carleton Raceway and Casino’s modernization plans; budding business partnership with Hard Rock International; and recent membership with the Ontario Standardbred Alliance, are all positive indicators for a strengthened equestrian industry in Ottawa and Ontario.

Plans to improve the current track facilities and grandstand have already begun. The Rideau Carleton Raceway and Casino has been working with horse racing industry stakeholders to deliver upgrades to its track and barns.

And the improvements are already being noticed by Ottawa’s top racing talent.

Brett MacDonald of Manotick, Ont., the recipient of the 2017 Future Star Award and a regular harness driver at the Rideau Carleton Raceway and Casino told us that ­­­­­he is excited for what the Hard Rock expansion could mean for the future of racing at Rideau Carleton Raceway and Casino, Future Home of Hard Rock Ottawa.

“It will be nice to see what they can change. I think anything is going to help. Hard Rock’s [brand] bringing in more people is going to help,” says MacDonald. “The more people that come the better. Even if they aren’t there to specifically watch the races, maybe they’ll still watch.”

MacDonald has been surrounded by horse racing his entire life. His parents have always owned horses, and from an early age, Brett had the desire to be a part of it.

He started driving in matinee races back in PEI, where the family is originally from, and hasn’t stopped since. His cousin John, a top driver at the Rideau Carleton Raceway and Casino, was someone Brett looked up to and admired for his success. Receiving tips and advice from his father and cousin, he worked and trained hard to get to where he is, and now, in only his third season of full time driving, Brett is making headlines.

At just 21, he has accumulated over 114 wins and more than $616,000 in purse money. He recently received the Future Star Award at the 2017 O’Brien Award Black Tie Gala held this past February in Mississauga. This prestigious award is presented to a new driver that demonstrates exceptional potential and talent within the first three full-time years of his or her career.

“It’s a special award,” MacDonald said. “Any O’Brien award is special, so just to be nominated for it in general was a big thing to me. And then to win it, that was unbelievable!”

Brett knows this is only the beginning of his career in harness racing as he strives to become a top driver someday. When asked about how long he plans on racing for, he told us: “I’d like to keep doing this for as long as possible!”

“The raceway is near and dear to my family’s heart, says Andrew Wright, Director, Rideau Carleton Raceway and Casino. “My father-in law opened the Rideau Carleton Raceway over half a century ago and it has been a passion of ours to watch it grow and adapt ever since.”

For 55 years and counting, the Rideau Carleton Raceway and Casino’s five-eighths mile oval has been home to thousands of races and has hosted hundreds of thousands of spectators and patrons. Residents and tourists have long visited the Rideau Carleton Raceway and Casino to enjoy the thrill of watching the races with friends and family. At every turn, the Rideau Carleton Raceway and Casino’s owners have looked for opportunities to create a sustainable model for racing in Ottawa – to modernize its offering and programing. The introduction of slots in 2000 by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission helped to do just that, providing an immediate boost to horse racing.

With renovations already underway and expansion plans beginning soon, the Rideau Carleton Raceway and Casino, Future Home of Hard Rock Ottawa, will give Brett a racetrack he can call home for years more to come.

Andrew Wright says that is exactly what the expansion project is all about: “It’s about modernizing the business, the facility and entertainment options to ensure the lasting legacy of horse racing in our communities and delivering a world-class entertainment destination Ottawa residents can be proud of.”