Seventy-two trainers have entered over 120 horses for 11 races for the first day of the 2021 Woodbine Thoroughbred season, the 66th year of racing at the Toronto track. It has been a long wait for horsepeople and horses as most have not raced since November 2020 when the final 12 days of the season were cancelled by the the provincial government due to the raging Covid-19 pandemic.

As with 2020, the Woodbine season has been delayed about two months once again but unlike last year, numbers of positive cases of the virus were at record highs in early spring, hospitals were overrun and the race was on to get everyone vaccinated, or at least a large percentage of the population.

Woodbine had its own outbreak, a scary incident that saw two barns of horses shut down and people sent home for two weeks. Many people got sick.

Woodbine Entertainment’s Jim Lawson and health officials in Ontario were able to agree that a pop-up vaccine clinic was necessary at the track and the five-day clinic yielded thousands of vaccines for horsepeople and community members. In fact, the vaccine rollout surged in the spring in Ontario and Canada and that has led to the number of Covid-19 cases finally dropping.

It was a rough spring, however, for Lawson, the HBPA’s Sue Leslie, and members of the Ontario racing community, who spent weeks on the phone, email and social media pleading with the provincial government to recognize the horse racing sport and industry as crucial to the province.

When horse racing in the province was finally given the green light to continue in Step 1 of the ‘Roadmap to Re-opening,’ the wording said ‘outdoor horse racing’ would be allowed. This only goes to show that the government has little idea as to what horse racing in the province is about and what it means to the economy and thousands of hard working residents.

“While it has been a very frustrating period, I would like to thank the Government of Ontario for the recent attention it has given the horse racing industry,” said Lawson, CEO, Woodbine Entertainment. “In particular, I would like to thank Premier Doug Ford for his understanding and interest in the plight of the horse racing industry that has been so greatly impacted by the global pandemic and ensuing government restrictions.”

But racing is ‘back on track’ with two racing cards June 12 and 13 followed by Fort Erie on June 15 and Ajax Downs on June 16.

“This year was much worse than last year,’ said 2020 Sovereign award finalist trainer Josie Carroll. “With all the start and then stop dates it made it impossible to train horses.”

Carroll was one of very few local trainers to go south for the winter and she took just two Canadian staff with her and hired an entirely new team at Palm Meadows in Florida. She sent horses to Kentucky on her way back from Florida and managed to get some races in for those runners, highlighted by the big win by Horse of the Year MIGHTY HEART in the Blame Stakes.

Carroll has horses entered in four races on the opening day card, which begins at the new post time of 1:20 p.m.

Horses have been training steadily since March 1, although some trainers did slow down on the testing workout schedule for their horses in order to hopefully avoid their runners being ‘over the top’ once racing began.

Handicappers can be on the lookout for a new twist on claiming races in the early weeks, a form of ‘waiver claiming’ in which horses making their first start of the meeting and coming off a layoff of at least 150 days can be entered in a claiming race without the claiming price. Horse owners and trainers can race their horse once and avoid having the horse being claimed away.

Woodbine’s opening day feature race is an allowance race/optional claiming at 7 1/2 furlongs on the inner turf, race 9, for fillies and mares. Carroll-trainee FIDUCIARY (GB), bought by Mark Dobson for about $56,000 US at the December 2020 Tattersalls Mare sale in Newmarket and bred by Juddmonte Farms, is a two-time winner on grass in France and she is a three-quarter sister to Group 3-placed Gavola. The bay four-year-old has been posting impressive workout times at Woodbine and Luis Contreras will ride.

Race 8 is a maiden allowance event on turf for fillies and mares that features a number of gals who have been racing with promise in the US this winter.

Racing continues next week, Friday through Sunday, and then four days a week, Thursday through Sunday.

Unfortunately, fans and owners are not permitted at the track at this time, but Step Two of the Re-Opening Plan by Ontario could start to see some fans allowed.