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Trout Springs, Alberta Downs I & II

This isn't as much about a race track, but more about a man, that man is Bob Allen. It looks like he was into a little bit of everything, but his true passion was horse racing. Looks like he grew up in Western Canada and by the early eighties ended up in the Calgary area. He wasn't afraid to try something and he didn't seem to mind hard work, to some he may have been a visionary, to others a dreamer and to others something else. If you watch football you'll hear the words "staying ahead of the chains" , well Bob never seemed to be able to do that, every time it looked like he was gaining ground, he'd get a fifteen yard penalty. 

In a struggle of man versus machine, it looks like the machine won, but Bob gave it all he had and I hope I can do that story justice, with the facts I have cobbled together. So let's start the journey.

Trout Springs

Sometime in 1981 Bob Allen starts up his trout farm on the outskirts of Calgary, at some point he decides to install a training track and stabling facility. Canadian racing back then was divided into classes "A", "B" or "C", the "A" tracks in the area were the Calgary Stampede and Northland Park, a bunch of smaller venues made up the "B" circuit. A "B" trainer could only race at "B" tracks, by the early eighties a lot of "B" tracks were disappearing, so Bob Allen steps up to save "B" racing in Alberta.    In 1983 Trout Springs holds it's first card, a non betting event for quarter horses. This will pave the way for three days of pari-mutual racing in 1984.

In 1984, Trout Springs, holds it's inaugural meet with three days of class "B" racing, complete with a temporary grandstand, rocky parking lot and run on Bob Allen's "all weather" track, which consisted of wood chips. Another one of his innovations, that might have been the first in North America. Starting out and continuing over the years was a 6 PM post time, but the track had no lights, so it was always an adventure to get the races in before sunset. The first meet did well enough for Trout Springs, to be granted 24 days of racing in 1985 by the ARC (Alberta Racing Commission).    

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In 1985, Trout Springs was preparing for the upcoming season of 24 race days. Work on the grandstand was progressing (the roof leaked), but things were starting to take shape, for the July 15 kickoff. On June 24, the main barn caught fire and burnt to the ground, killing 59 horses, an event that would leave Bob Allen, financially and emotionally devastated. Despite the tragedy the meet went off as scheduled and at the end of the year the ARC rewarded Trout Springs an extra day, bringing Trout Spring's 1986 total to 25. The commission also granted the track a handful of harness dates, on the condition he install a chute on his track, For harness horses?.

It's 1986 and the hits keep on coming!  In February a flash flood hits the neighboring Elbow River, causing  the horses stabled there to be evacuated. No horses perished but many did not return, leaving Bob Allen with another financial setback. As for the harness meet, it didn't happen, don't know if the chute ever got built. There were dates for harness racing over the years, but I never saw a sign that a harness race was ever run at Trout Springs. Race dates for 1987 were held up until Allen could produce a $600,000 bond.

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Bob Allen, dodges a bullet in 1987, when he turns the track infield into a gravel pit, which helps with his bond payment and he hopes, enough cash to finish his still under construction grandstand, but things continue to deteriorate. Computer glitches throughout the season, cause money to be returned to bettors and after a race a jockey was thrown from his mount and had to wait fifteen minutes for medical attention, fortunately he wasn't seriously injured, but the jockeys boycotted the rest of the card.

1988, starts out with no race dates and a foreclosure notice, is this the end of the line? Apparently not, Allen once again squeaks by with a mortgage restructure, so with the sale of the  track averted, he gets a small business loan and after five years his grandstand gets a roof. Things are looking up (no pun intended).

In 1989 the golden age of Trout Springs, starts on a low note with the cancellation of the spring meet, but will end on a high note. In November Bob Allen introduced simulcasting to Canada. All the profit of live racing without the expense. Unlike today when simulcasting goes on 365 days a year, these dates were doled out like race dates. In 1990, with the help of simulcasting the handle at Trout Springs was around $100,000 a day, but Bob Allen had poked the bear.

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Once the big boys in Calgary saw the benefit of simulcasting, betting shops started to pop up in Calgary and before long nobody was making the scenic drive to rural Trout Springs. In 1991 the track was forced to reduce staffing and attempted to run Saturday morning cards before the afternoon races at Calgary. The final Saturday saw 70 fans show up to bet $2,100. What does Bob Allen get for his effort, but a $150,000 performance bond.

This time, Bob Allen runs out of options and his beloved track is foreclosed. To continue racing in 1993 he has to lease his own track, down but not out he keeps trying, just like the bettor that's going to win it all back in the next race. All is not lost, in the waning days of the year he thinks he's found the solution to his problems. Hello Alberta Downs.

Alberta Downs I

It seems the problem, the whole time was the name Trout Springs, it was jinxed. So Hello Alberta Downs, Allen had grand plans, a poor man' Breeders Cup later in the year, with stakes races and match races between man and beast. His Alberta Downs signal would be carried at all the betting parlors in Calgary and he would finally get harness racing. Is that a business plan or what.

Fast forward to the end of 1995 mixed breed season and a bitter and bewildered Bob Allen who couldn't understand how a place that offered free parking and admission could fail. Allen vowed he was done with Calgary, but not horse racing, Hello Alberta Downs II.

Alberta Downs II - Another Dumpster Fire!

Actually there was no fire, no flood, no wood chips, no gravel pit in the infield, but the results weren't much different. Before any horses even set foot on the track, Bob Allen lost the 1,500 VLT's he was promised and when the horses took to the track, there was another temporary grandstand, and the last two weeks of the meet were cancelled because of frost, sound familiar.

When Alberta started looking for someone to build a new track around 2005, Bob Allen probably couldn't help himself, this was his shot at redemption. Starting out in 2006, Bob Allen started to build his masterpiece on a stretch of wetlands near Lacombe, Alberta. This time he would build a mile oval, with a traditional dirt surface and of all things a seven eights mile turf course, (maybe he thought he had Woodbine here, or at least Fort Erie). Why should he worry, he had those 1,500 slot machine, he hated so much to bail him out, or did he.

Maybe, the ARC didn't really like Bob Allen, before his track was finished, the ARC deemed there were way to many slot machines in Alberta and took back his allocation. Undaunted, he knows he can succeed on horse racing alone, hey he had a turf course. Finally in April of 2008, without a permanent grandstand, the horses took the track. No not thoroughbreds, but harness horses, which he professed to hate as much as VLT's (at least back in his Trout Springs Days). The standardbreds would be his bread and butter for the next eight years. As for the thoroughbreds and that slick turf course, not much ever happened there.

The dirt track was built for the harness horses and thoroughbreds never ran on it, the turf course was a different story. From 2011 to 2016, a whole twelve days of racing were run, with a total of 56 races run, it hardly seemed worth the effort. The downward spiral started in 2015 when the ARC refused to give Alberta Downs any race dates. In 2016 Bob Allen once again got race dates and had a rebirth of his track. In 2017 Bob Allen is once again bitter and bewildered, as he has to sell of his track and swears he is done with Canada.


I guess you could say Bob Allen was a maverick, he did everything from running night clubs to trout farm (he once boasted that he had the healthiest jockeys in the country because all they ate were fish from his ponds). As of late 2022, it seems he is alive and kicking in his mid eighties, whether he still has the fire in the belly for horse racing, who knows?. After Alberta Downs II, he was said to be headed south of the border, to California or Las Vegas, looking for opportunities for a new venture.

As for Alberta Downs, it still exists, with the rather bland handle of The Track on 2. It seems they finally got Bob Allen's VLT's, but only a handful of harness dates each year. Truth be told, it seems more like a concert venue than a race track. The turf course, it's still there, I saw a picture of a bridal party with bridesmaids ridding their groomsmen thundering down the stretch.