The Ontario government is going to make Woodbine Racetrack workers sweat it out for at least one more day.
Officials from Woodbine Entertainment this week have been in discussions with the province, urging the Doug Ford government to allow the last three weeks of thoroughbred horse racing to go ahead as scheduled. But after hours of deliberation on Wednesday, there was still no definitive word. Because of that, Saturday’s race card at Woodbine has been cancelled, meaning more money that would have gone into the pockets of horse racing people has been lost.
Toronto and Peel Region went into a grey lockdown phase on Monday because of a spike in COVID-19 positive tests. In a lockdown, horse racing is not allowed but training is, even though the same people are needed for both. And the public is never at risk as spectators are not allowed at the track.
Woodbine Entertainment CEO Jim Lawson has made the case that the loss of $5.2 million in purses if racing ends early (the racing season was scheduled to end on Dec. 13) would cause immense hardship for track workers, many of whom live hand to mouth. An early closure would also mean about $50 million in lost wagering. Betting is how the horse racing industry makes its money.
IN THE PINK FOR NEXT YEAR
Pink Lloyd trainer Robert Tiller told Ron Gierkink of the Daily Racing Form that the 2017 Canadian Horse of the Year should be back in action in 2021 for his nine-year-old season.
“He came out of the race perfect,” Tiller said of Pink Lloyd’s performance in the Grade 2 Kennedy Road Stakes on Saturday. “He will be retired at some point next year. He will tell us when it’s over. If we’re not happy with the way he’s running, he’ll be retired. We love this horse so much. He’s an amazing animal.”
Despite finishing third to a pair of Mark Casse entries (Ride a Comet and Souper Stonehenge) in the Kennedy Road Stakes, Pink Lloyd likely will win the 2020 Sovereign Award for champion male sprinter for the fourth year in a row, and may win his second Horse of the Year title. Pink Lloyd had won four straight stakes this season before the Kennedy Road.
Casse told Gierkink that the impressive Ride a Comet will ship back to his Ocala, Fla., training centre and could run back in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf on Jan. 23 at Gulfstream.
The other argument for keeping racing going is the fact that Woodbine has done an outstanding job at controlling the COVID-19 virus. In fact, for eight months, despite close to 2,000 workers in the backstretch, there were no positive tests. One jockey tested positive last week, but he contracted the virus outside of the track.
Lawson also worries that losing the $5.2 million would result in some trainers and owners not being able to afford to look after their horses. And that would be a disaster. Track workers, owners and trainers are already hurting because of the delayed start this year. The backstretch opened in March, but racing didn’t begin until June.
On Tuesday, WE decided to cancel live racing on Thursday and Friday of this week. And now Saturday has been sacrificed.
In a release on Wednesday night, WE said: “Should Government permit us to safely resume live racing, Sunday, Nov. 29 would be the earliest date. The Race Office would open on Friday, November 27 at 6 a.m. for entries. Furthermore, if Woodbine Entertainment is permitted to complete the 2020 Thoroughbred meet, it will endeavour to reschedule the cancelled races.
“Woodbine Entertainment has committed to make a final decision on the status of the season by 6 p.m. on Thursday, November 26.”
TAKE ME OUT TO THE PONIES
Hello Friends completed a great year with a victory in Sunday’s first race at Woodbine, a six-furlong claimer for a purse of $60,000, with Emma-Jayne Wilson in the saddle. The four-year-old filly is named in honour of the popular catchphrase of longtime Blue Jays broadcaster Jerry Howarth, who opened his broadcast with the line. Howarth has been in touch with Maggie LeBlanc, who owns and bred Hello Friends, and her husband, the horse’s trainer John LeBlanc Jr. The LeBlancs previously owned and raced a horse named Wardo, named after former Blue Jays pitcher Duane Ward. The LeBlancs’ son Douglas had attended the Jays’ Honda Super Camps in past summers and Ward was one of his favourite instructors. The son of Canadian Triple Crown champion Wando, Wardo won twice in 26 starts with earnings of $47,574.