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Chuckwagon championships coming to Balzac

The rumble of wagon wheels and horse hooves pounding the dirt is just around the corner, as Century Downs Racetrack and Casino gets set to host the 2019 World Professional Chuckwagon Association (WPCA) finals Aug. 21 to 25.

The competition – the first of a five-year agreement that will bring the association finals to Century Downs each summer until 2023 – will see the top chuckwagon drivers, outriders and horses in the world battle it out for the title of 2019 WPCA champion.

“Some of the best there is in the sport will be here competing, and I think everyone is going to see a great show and a lot of talented drivers and horses racing,” said Century Downs Marketing Manager Karen Franco.

The partnership was first announced in October 2018, and the event’s format was revealed in January.

“We saw an increase in interest following the Stampede,” Franco said. “As more and more people become aware of the event and how quickly it’s approaching, we continue to see ticket sales coming in quite steadily. We’re excited and looking forward to it.”

The five days of racing will cap off the WPCA’s 2019 Pro Tour, which included 10 stops in towns and cities throughout Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. Only the top-12 drivers in the WPCA’s point standings following the penultimate stop in Rocky Mountain House, Alta., Aug. 15 to 18, will qualify for the finals.

According to Franco, staff at Century Downs has been hard at work converting the 5.5-furlong horse racing track into a venue suitable for chuckwagon racing. She said the Balzac-based facility is also setting up portable grandstands to accommodate the expected 15,000 fans.

“The great thing for Calgarians and for folks in the immediate area is that it’s going to be a really up-close, get-dirt-in-your-teeth kind of view,” she said. “The seating is going to be right up to the track, so you’re going to be able to appreciate the intensity and the athleticism being put on for you. It’s going to be a terrific experience, from that perspective.”

Along with the WPCA title up for grabs, competitors will vie for more than $300,000 in prize money, including a payout of more than $100,000 for the winning driver on Showdown Sunday on Aug. 25.

Chuckwagon racing gained negative attention following the 2019 Calgary Stampede, when six horses were euthanized after the Rangeland Derby – the highest number of horse fatalities since 2010. Following the Stampede, officials said they will undergo a “thorough review” of chuckwagon racing’s safety procedures.

Franco said Century Downs and the WPCA will ensure animal safety remains a priority at the event.

“We’ll be working with the WPCA and we have full confidence in the protocols and procedures they have in place,” she said.

The event will also boast live concerts from the infield Aug. 23 and 24, immediately following a full day of racing. According to Franco, the concerts will feature indie rock band Yukon Blonde and Canadian country artist Jojo Mason.

As well, she added, there will be equestrian skill demonstrations prior to the races.

“Very much, we’re trying to create a family-friendly atmosphere,” she said. “Hopefully it’s something that everyone can enjoy.”

Tickets are available at bit.ly/2YtNLCS




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Scott Strasser

About the Author: Scott Strasser

Scott Strasser, sports/RCMP reporter
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