The funk/rock band Earth, Wind & Fire sang about September and Ontario horse racing fans will also be singing the month’s praises this year. For the first time in the history of Woodbine Racetrack, The Queen’s Plate (Sept. 12) and the Grade 1 Ricoh Woodbine Mile (Sept. 19) are scheduled for September, on back-to-back weekends, […]Queen’s Plate and Ricoh Woodbine Mile to be run on back-to-back weekends in September — Toronto Sun
By Steve Buffery
For the first time in the history of Woodbine Racetrack, The Queen’s Plate (Sept. 12) and the Grade 1 Ricoh Woodbine Mile (Sept. 19) are scheduled for September, on back-to-back weekends, in fact — changes necessitated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Queen’s Plate, North America’s oldest continuously run horse race, was originally scheduled for June 27.
Woodbine Entertainment announced a revised 2020 stakes schedule on Wednesday. The thoroughbred season is now scheduled to open on June 6 and will run through Dec. 13.
The 2020 stakes program includes $13.8 million in purses across 75 stakes and features.
“It’s been an unprecedented year which has led to a unique stakes schedule that we are very excited about,” said Jim Lawson, CEO of Woodbine Entertainment. “The summer stakes schedule will build the anticipation for a very busy and exciting fall at Woodbine Racetrack highlighted by the running of our two biggest stakes races on back-to-back Saturdays.”
However, with the promise of a 2020 Woodbine season also came some bad news on Wednesday. WE also announced that due to complications with international travel, the Pattison Canadian International (Grade 1) has been cancelled for the 2020 season.
Some highlights of this year’s Woodbine stakes schedule include:
— The Canadian Triple Crown will get underway with the 161st running of The Queen’s Plate on Sept. 12, followed by the Prince of Wales at Fort Erie racetrack on Tuesday, Sept. 29, and concluding on the turf at Woodbine Racetrack with the $400,000 Breeders’ Stakes on Oct. 24.
— Designated as Breeders’ Cup “Win And You’re In” races, the Ricoh Woodbine Mile will be followed by the Grade 1 Summer Stakes and the filly companion Grade 1 Natalma Stakes for two-year-olds on Sept. 20.
— The Woodbine Cares and Ontario Racing Stakes, new juvenile inner turf stakes that launched in 2019, will be contested on Sept. 19 with purses increased to $135,000 each.
— The $600,000 E.P. Taylor Stakes (Grade 1), the $300,000 Northern Dancer (Grade 1) presented by Pattison and the $250,000 Nearctic Stakes (Grade 2) will be featured on Oct.18.
— Woodbine’s Ladies of the Lawn Series, which provides the winner with a $75,000 bonus, returns in 2020 with the first leg on June 27 with the $175,000 Nassau Stakes (Grade 2), followed by the $175,000 Dance Smartly Stakes (Grade 2) on Aug. 15, the $250,000 Canadian Stakes (Grade 2) on Sept. 12, before culminating with the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor Stakes. The inaugural winner of the 2019 Ladies of the Lawn Series was Starship Jubilee.
— The $500,000 Woodbine Oaks Presented by Budweiser, first leg of the Canadian Triple Tiara, headlines another major race card on Aug. 15 which will include the $150,000 Plate Trial, which is one of six Canadian-foaled classics to receive a purse boost for 2020.
— The Greenwood Stakes has been shifted to Aug. 1 and is one of three Ontario-bred stakes on the calendar with purses increased from $125,000 to $150,000.
— The other classics for horses foaled in Canada with purse increases, from $225,000 to $250,000, are the Bison City (Sept. 12), Cup & Saucer (Oct. 10), Wonder Where (Oct. 25), Princess Elizabeth (Oct. 31) and Coronation Futurity (Nov. 1).
— This year’s Yearling Sales Stakes set for Aug. 30 will feature four stakes including a pair of two-year-old events (Simcoe and Muskoka) with purse increases to $250,000 and a pair of three-year-old events (Elgin and Algoma) with purses of $135,000.
The Queen’s Plate will be served up on Saturday Sept.12. Read MoreHorse racing people pleased with news that Queen’s Plate will run on Sept.12 — Toronto Sun
The Queen’s Plate will be served up on Saturday Sept.12.
North America’s oldest continuously run horse race was originally scheduled to take place on June 27 but was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, with the Ontario government last week announcing a framework to gradually reopen the province, Woodbine Entertainment set a plan in motion to start thoroughbred race — without spectators — on June 6 at Woodbine Racetrack in Etobicoke (and June 5 for harness racing at Woodbine Mohawk in Milton).
The Victoria Day announcement that the $1 million Queen’s Plate will be run this year comes as welcome news for action-starved horse players, not to mention those in the racing industry.
“The history of The Queen’s Plate is so rich and the fact that it’s been held every year since the inaugural race in 1860 is remarkable,” said Woodbine Entertainment CEO Jim Lawson. “We are honoured to be able to continue this rich history in face of adversity by hosting the race for the 161st consecutive year.”
As part of the preparations for The Queen’s Plate, the Woodbine Oaks presented by Budweiser and The Plate Trial will be held on Saturday, August 15. WE’s full thoroughbred stakes schedule is expected to be announced on May 20.
The Woodbine backstretch has remained open for essential workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and last week jockeys were allowed back on site to breeze horses. Timed training and gate training has also started at the track.
All the activities at the backstretch are being conducted with strict safety protocols in place, such as the wearing of face masks, social distancing and having everyone’s temperature taken when they arrive at the track.
The feeling around Woodbine Racetrack these days, other than a growing sense of despair and hopelessness, is: ‘Why them and not us?’ Read MoreWoodbine workers struggling to stay afloat while other tracks remain open — Toronto Sun
The feeling around Woodbine Racetrack these days, other than a growing sense of despair and hopelessness, is: ‘Why them and not us?’
Because of the COVID-19 outbreak and the subsequent lockdowns, there’s no racing at the west-end oval, so there’s no money. A great many track workers are unemployed and are struggling to pay rent, buy food, even to find a place to live. Most of them don’t make much money when they are working. Many do not have savings, nothing to fall back on, few other work skills. Some small-time trainers and owners are on the verge of financial ruin.
These aren’t the people who are working from their home offices, ordering food and booze online, and taking time out to go on social media and lecture others about social distancing and staying home.
These are people who, if they’re not at the track working, they’re busted. These are the people who are worried, deeply worried, that their industry is on the brink of collapse.
“People are scared,” said owner and horse player Tommy Massis. “People are going to go out of business.”
And yet, there are tracks in North America — Gulfstream Park, Tampa Bay Downs, Oaklawn, Will Rogers Downs, for instance — as well as tracks in Australia, Japan and Hong Kong that are up and running and functioning somewhat normally, with strict social distancing in place and with no spectators in the stands. Grooms, hot walkers, trainers, jockeys and owners at these tracks are making money and staying afloat.
At Woodbine, people are desperate for racing to begin. Desperate to work. Desperate for, at the very least, an opening date they can focus on. The 2020 thoroughbred season at Woodbine was set to begin on April 18. That’s been postponed indefinitely. As of now, only essential workers are allowed at the Woodbine backstretch, to care for the horses.
Nobody wants to put other people in danger and spread the COVID-19 virus. But for some track people on the brink of financial collapse, there’s a growing feeling that the cure is as bad as the disease, particularly if there are steps that can be taken to limit the risk of contracting or spreading the virus. Already, workers arriving at the backstretch have their temperature taken and go through a series of health checks.
“The fact that Gulfstream and Oaklawn and Tampa are still going, how does that work?” asked prominent Woodbine trainer Julia Carey. “Why can’t we operate in the same way that Gulfstream does? Everyone is fine. Everyone’s making money. It’s good for the economy, it’s good for the city. The government doesn’t have to support these people.
“(Workers) are there anyway (caring for the horses in the backstretch), there’s only a few people extra that would be coming to work (when racing begins) and they could easily work in an isolated environment where they wouldn’t be contaminating each other in any work. It could work. It has worked,” Carey added.
“When you look at the situation in the U.S. and our situation here in Ontario, the two don’t look comparable, yet the tracks in the U.S. are fighting through (the COVID-19) and some smaller tracks are even taking advantage of the situation in the sense that their daily handle are at numbers never seen,” added Kevin Attard, another prominent trainer at Woodbine. “And we’re here wondering, when?
“We are all dependent on the income derived from winning purse money. Our local horse people based here in Ontario have not seen racing since last December. That’s a long time of just paying bills to keep these horses healthy. With the uncertainty of when we will be racing still to be determined, it’s having an enormous affect financially and emotionally,” Attard added.
Horse racing is a professional sport that doesn’t benefit from lucrative TV contracts and there’s no promise of a big-money payout from a network when the next season begins. If there’s no racing, there’s no betting and there’s no money. Woodbine CEO Jim Lawson is desperate for racing to begin and he’d love to be able to announce a start date for the 2020 season. But he believes it’s wrong to throw out a random date and give people false hope when he has to wait for the city and the province to decide when the lockdowns will be lifted.
“For now, we all have to sit tight and try to patient and understanding,” said Lawson. “When the state of emergency is lifted, we can start planning in detail. We are going to be completely guided by health professionals and directives as to what might be possible.”
Opening the track again is not an easy undertaking. Deals have to be reached with all sorts of workers not employed by Woodbine but are necessary for the operation of racing, such as stewards and drug testers.
One thing that scares people in the horse racing industry – and it makes the current situation even tougher to bear -— is that a lot people don’t care if the sport dies. Horse racing has been plagued with problems for years, most recently doping scandals and far too many horses dying under mysterious circumstances at some U.S. tracks in the last year. Many people would love to see the sport go the way of the Dodo Bird.
“With a lot of people, there’s a little bit of distaste (about the sport),” said Carey. “They’ve got the PETA people going around saying how cruel we are. A lot of people couldn’t care less. But (horse racing) is huge. And it’s been around since the dawn of time.”
By Steve Bufferry
The horses at the Woodbine Racetrack backstretch will continue to be cared for throughout the COVID-19 outbreak.Woodbine Entertainment announced on Tuesday that it remains committed to stabling horses on its backstretch, even though the start date for the 2020 thoroughbred racing season has been postponed.
“These horses need a home and our land and facilities were created exactly for the purpose of caring for these animals,” said Jim Lawson, CEO of Woodbine Entertainment.“Furthermore, horse people have requested that we keep our backstretch open and we have only done so in accordance with the government deeming stabling an essential business. We have also followed strict government direction to minimize the risk in the spread of COVID-19.”
The Woodbine season was supposed to begin on April 18. No new start date has been announced. To date, there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 in the Woodbine backstretch.
The start of the thoroughbred racing season in Ontario has been postponed, Woodbine Entertainment announced on Monday. Read MoreStart to Woodbine thoroughbred season put on hold — Toronto Sun
Normally, when Queen’s Plate-winning jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson does an interview, it’s done either at Woodbine Racetrack or over the phone from her home office. Read MoreEmma-Jayne Wilson still fired up for the start of the season and finding ways to stay fit — Toronto Sun
The Woodbine jockeys’ colony will be losing one standout this season but gaining another. Read MoreTop British jockey Holland planning to make Woodbine his home in 2020 — Toronto Sun
Eurico da Silva, the leading rider at the Etobicoke track the past five consecutive years, retired at the end of the 2019 season after winning 182 races in the campaign, including 19 stakes wins while topping the standings in earnings with his mounts earning more than $9.8 million.
With the personable da Silva out of the picture, the thought is that a number of the other top jocks at the track — including Rafael Hernandez, Kazushi Kimura, Luis Contreras and Emma-Jayne Wilson — would be vying for the title in 2020.
And they still will be. But the challenge of winning the jockey championship has become much more daunting for everybody with the news that top British jock Darryll Holland plans to make Woodbine his permanent base in 2020.