New traditions forged, old rekindled at race track’s opening day

As the powerful animals prepared to take off around the historic oval in Fort Erie, Hailey Madsen was happy to simply catch a glimpse of them.

Spectators watch the first race of opening day come to a finish. Credit: Luke Edwards | Fort Erie Radio

“I just love horses,” the young Wainfleet girl said. “They’re fun and they’re pretty.”

The Fort Erie Race Track celebrated opening day on Tuesday, May 28, with crowds returning to watch the races, enjoy some food and drink, and lay a few bets down.

For Hailey–who has made trips to the race track over the past couple years with her family, including mom Kerstin and brothers Hunter and Lucas–it was all about seeing the horses.

She’s had a quarter horse and a draft/quarter cross for about a year now, while the family had miniature horses before that.

Lucas, Hailey and Hunter Madsen made the trip to Fort Erie from Wainfleet with their mom to take in opening day at the Fort Erie Race Track. Credit: Luke Edwards | Fort Erie Radio

While the visits to Fort Erie are relatively new for the Madsens, Thorold’s Jon Blouin is on the other end of the spectrum.

“My dad brought me as a kid,” he said. “It’s just the atmosphere, I’ve always loved horse racing.”

Jon Blouin got into horse racing as a child when his dad would bring him to the track. He was at opening day in Fort Erie with his child Tatum. Credit: Luke Edwards | Fort Erie Radio

Now a dad himself, Blouin brought his child Tatum to the track for opening day, hoisting the little one up on his shoulders so Tatum could better see the horses as they came around the bend, galloping towards the finish line.

This year marks the 127th year of racing at the Fort Erie Race Track. Unfortunately a storm did roll through after the second race of the day, putting a bit of a hamper on things, but otherwise the day was a success.

The Lloyd family from Fort Erie checks out the oval before the first race. Their horse, Anarchy, would compete in and win the second race of the day. From left: Luke, Hailey and TJ Lloyd. Credit: Luke Edwards | Fort Erie Radio

Total wagering nearly hit $2 million for the day. The $1.9 million total was 11 per cent higher than opening day 2023.

The signature race of the day, the $30,000 Summer Solstice Cup, topped $250,000 in wagering, leading the way. Jockey Sofia Vives and horse Bellaspina won the race, keeping a slim lead for most of the race before pulling out well ahead of the competition at the end.

“Going into this race, I rode this mare a couple times already,” said Vives. “Today in the paddock she was eager to go, and in the gate she was eager to go, so I thought that we should break on top and secure position, and we did just that, then at the sixteenth when we cleared in front, we went for home.”

Officials had to postpone the final race of the day due to the weather. It’ll be made up on the next card on June 4.

Racing continues most Mondays and Tuesdays until closing day on October 22, 2024.

There’s also a wide range of special events held at the track throughout the year, including wiener dog, basset hound and the new corgi races.

There are also four special Sunday race days, including one coming up in June on Father’s Day. The June 16 day features two new $30,000 races, the Longrun Thoroughbred Retirement Stakes and the Longrun Thoroughbred After Care Stakes. The first race track farmers’ market of the season takes place then, and a variety of food trucks will be on hand.

Spectators watch as the first race of opening day comes to a finish. Credit: Luke Edwards | Fort Erie Radio
Longtime race track bugler Reinhold Nagel and the race track’s manager of marketing and corporate communications James Culic before the first race of the day. Credit: Luke Edwards | Fort Erie Radio
There was excitement all around as horse racing returned to Fort Erie on Tuesday, May 28. Credit: Luke Edwards | Fort Erie Radio
Spectators watch as some of the horses in the first race make an appearance before heading out to the track. Credit: Luke Edwards | Fort Erie Radio
Theresa Murphy and Vince Cottone were collecting personal products and non-perishable food items for Strong Fort Erie Neighbourhoods at the race track’s opening day. Credit: Luke Edwards | Fort Erie Radio
The Fort Erie Race Track. Credit: Luke Edwards | Fort Erie Radio

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