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Saturday, March 4, 2000


Victor Deschenes hoped to become a big player in thoroughbred racing at Woodbine. Now the owner says he feels snubbed and he's taking his stock down the QEW to Fort Erie Racetrack.

Deschenes, who expects to own 30 thoroughbreds by the time the Woodbine meet opens on April 1, sponsored Woodbine telecasts on CTV Sportsnet last year with his delivery company, Expedite Plus.

But when Deschenes didn't receive what he considered premium stall assignments for this season, he decided to pull his horses -- and his sponsorship money -- away from the Ontario Jockey Club-owned track.

Trouble started when Deschenes parted company with his former trainer, Rita Schnitzler, for what Deschenes describes as "a difference of opinion."

The owner best known for racing Lenny The Lender, a fourth-place finisher in last year's Queen's Plate, then hired Fort Erie-based Nick Gonzales to train. When Gonzales applied for stalls at Woodbine as all trainers must do, he was offered 10 in the less desirable sales barn, a temporary facility removed from the main portion of the Woodbine backstretch.

Upset with that decision, Deschenes decided to take his horses to Fort Erie where he will race some while shipping the better stock to Woodbine on the day of their races.


"I was willing to give them extensive advertising and all they could offer me was the sales barn?" Deschenes said.

But business is business and racing is racing. Deschenes isn't exactly being kicked out. OJC vice-president of thoroughbred racing, John Whitson, confirmed Gonzales was offered 10 stalls in the sales barn. With more than 2,800 applications and room for just 1,880 horses, it is not possible to satisfy every horseman, he said.

A purse increase of 20% to start the season and more expected once slot machines are up and running, has made Woodbine a hot property for horsemen. "(Deschenes) decided to give his horses to a trainer that has never had stalls in the main barns at Woodbine," Whitson said. "There aren't barns sitting empty for every new trainer waiting to be discovered."

FINISH LINE: The long-awaited debut of the Woodbine slots will be a little longer wait than expected. Originally pegged to open last summer, the 1,700 one-armed bandits were delayed until December, then March 23. But OJC president David Willmot said this week that the target likely won't be met. Willmot said he hopes the slots will be open by March 27, the final day of the abbreviated Woodbine standardbred meet.

Copyright 2000, The Toronto Sun Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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