The Moosomin First Nation in Saskatchewan has become the first in Canada to secure a gaming licence to be a track operator for thoroughbred horse racing, according to the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN).
The First Nation purchased about 900 acres of land northwest of Saskatoon 29 years ago as part of a Treaty Land Entitlement and slated it for agricultural use. But now it will be home to the planned Moosomin Downs and will host thoroughbred and standardbred racing, chariot and chuckwagons, and the Indian relay.
Rob Woods, who is with Moosomin Downs and Entertainment Limited Partnership, said the race track will be a stepping stone to other opportunities.
“Our commitment is to basically move past a hobby-based business and allow the people who are going to participate and want to invest in horses and other things to know that our goal is to turn it into a career for our young people,” said Woods.
A groundbreaking ceremony will take place at the end of the summer.
Moosomin Downs is taking over the former Marquis Downs track in Saskatoon for the remainder of the 2022 season, running 10 days of racing starting Aug. 27.
The track was closed the past two years because of the pandemic and then shuttered for good by its former operator, Prairieland Park.
Chief Kenny Moccasin, from Saulteaux First Nation that neighbours Moosomin, said he grew up at the old Marquis Downs racetrack and the closure hit the horse racing community hard.
“A lot of First Nations people had to take their horses to Winnipeg, and also move their horses to Edmonton,” Moccasin said. “But I’m sure they will be happy to move their horses back here for the remainder of the racing season.”
The new Moosomin Downs track and other facilities should be operational by 2023. Moosomin First Nation Chief Cheryl Kahpeysewat said this is part of a plan started decades ago by previous leaders.
“Acquiring this licence and going through the rigorous application process is the first milestone on a path to building the long-term vision of Moosomin Downs and for our participation in the economy of our First Nation.” Kahpeysewat said.
The final race at the old track will be held on Sept. 25, with the Elite Indian Relay Championship and the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief’s Mile Race.
Horse racing fans will be able to place wagers on-site with racing simulcast outside of the province.
FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said the endeavor has the unanimous support of chiefs in Saskatchewan.
“When it was announced that horse racing would be coming to an end at Marquis Downs last year, so many people were affected from those who are drawn to the horse spirit to the families who continued generations of tradition and horse expertise,” Cameron said. “Moosomin seized the opportunity that many said would not happen.”