On Friday November 20th the Government of Ontario disclosed that Toronto will be entering the Province’s Grey Lockdown phase of coronavirus-related restrictions.
As a result Woodbine Entertainment announced that Sunday November 22nd would be the last day of Thoroughbred racing in the Province for 2020.
The second half of that Sunday card, de facto closing day for Woodbine, was scrapped due to severe weather. Races seven through 13 were called off, including a pair of Graded Stakes for 2-year-olds, the Grey and Mazarine Stakes –the latter a key race for fillies.
The decision to cancel the remainder of the Sunday card was made for the safety of the horses, participants and staff, as a result of the inclement weather, including accumulating snow and forecasted fluctuating temperatures and mixed precipitation.
Jim Lawson, CEO of Woodbine Entertainment, commented on the Government’s decision to enforce a Lockdown in the Toronto area that began last Monday.
“We have been, and continue to be, extremely supportive of the Government’s efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 throughout our Province and appreciate the many difficult decisions they have to make,” Lawson said. “We have approached the Government to explain the impacts this decision will have on our business and the horse racing industry in Ontario.
With a better understanding of our operations and based on our safety record in operating live racing at our racetracks, we hope that the Government will consider these impacts in the future and assist us in managing the potentially devastating impact to horse people and animal welfare this early shutdown will cause.”
The cancelled race cards (12) at Woodbine Racetrack represented a significant opportunity for horsemen to earn purse money that is critical for their livelihoods and the welfare of their horses as they enter the off-season for Thoroughbred racing in Ontario.
“Our organization’s sole mandate is to sustain the horse racing industry that supports the livelihoods of 20,000 families throughout the Province,” mentioned Lawson. “Woodbine Entertainment is the engine of that industry and this early shutdown further impacts our business.”
Woodbine Entertainment has approximately 1,300 employees either temporarily or permanently laid off as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This shutdown of racing also negatively impacts the approximately 2,000 horsemen on the Woodbine backstretch, putting many of them out of work.
The recent Lockdown restrictions prohibit live racing although do allow for training to continue. Training is however expected to cease by the end of November.
“Since we started racing at Woodbine and Mohawk Park in early June, we have demonstrated that racing without spectators poses no greater health risk to participants than training,” said Lawson. “We have been a leader in health and safety since the beginning of the pandemic and we are extremely proud of our record and the cooperation of our racing participants in maintaining safe racing environments.”
Despite the efforts of Lawson and his group to gain approval from the government of Ontario to safely complete the 2020 Thoroughbred meet, they decided on Thursday (Thanksgiving) to officially cancel the remainder of the season.
“We hope the government of Ontario has gained a better understanding of our business and appreciation of our safety record in operating live racing without spectators,” were Lawson’s final words on the matter.