On home turf?

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:23 AM ET

The Canadian Derby is staying in Edmonton.

But in what form is the intriguing question.

If the proposed $238-million racetrack just north of Calgary opens on schedule in 2009, Northlands Park - the longtime home of the Canadian Derby - could lose its coveted August racing dates.

The 78th Canadian Derby - Edmonton's most prestigious race - is set for Saturday.

"If I was them, I would," said Northlands chief racing executive Les Butler, predicting a new Calgary track management team will likely go after summer thoroughbred dates.

"Whoever races in Alberta will want to race thoroughbreds in June, July and August."

Northlands has held the key summer dates for many years because Stampede Park has hosted a spring thoroughbred meet before shifting gears to host the Calgary Stampede.

With Stampede Park hosting an apparent final meet next year, the Canadian Derby date in August in Edmonton is surely safe for 2008.

But after that, nobody can guarantee anything.

"The Derby has to be run at this time of the year," continued Butler.

"You could run it a little earlier but not much.

"We couldn't go much later or we would invade the territory that is reserved for the B.C. Derby.

"We go much earlier we would interfere with the Manitoba Derby.

"This year we have a good horse from Manitoba. We have a good horse from B.C. (in the Canadian Derby).

"So, it is important that the tracks co-operate."

The Manitoba Derby in Winnipeg was Aug. 6. The B.C. Derby is slated for Sept. 23 in Vancouver.

The Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver races are separated by that length with the hope three-year-old runners can race in two or all three events.

At Northlands Park, the Canadian Derby has long been the highlight event of the year.

The crowd triples that day, along with the betting handle. Racing executives are hoping for a handle of close to $900,000 for Saturday.

But if Northlands somehow loses its August thoroughbred dates - which will ultimately be determined by the horsemen's group and Horse Racing Alberta - the track will keep the race name.

"I think Northlands has shown over the years that they are proud of the concept of having that name," said Dr. David Reid, the head of Horse Racing Alberta, the governing body of the sport.

"They have developed it, they have built it and they have grown it.

"It is theirs to keep.

"I hope in Calgary we will develop a similar high class racing day.

"But from my perspective the Canadian Derby belongs and exists here."

In the most likely scenario if Edmonton has to settle for spring dates in 2009 or beyond, the race would remain but the distance would be reduced from a marathon length.

"For veterans like myself, it would be painful to try and compare a Derby in spring to this Derby," added Butler.

As for that proposed track just north of the Calgary airport, the mega-facility still doesn't have water guaranteed.

For that reason, a bank still hasn't loaned the United Horsemen of Alberta - the main developers - $140 million.

But the key players behind the project are still loaded with confidence.

"We're going to have one of the greatest racetracks in the world," said Max Gibb, the CEO of UHA.


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