“It is so great to see him in person and not just on the television!”

Horse racing lover Denise Bond called that out to groom Siobhan Brown as she led 2020 Canadian Horse of the Year MIGHTY HEART to the saddling enclosure before the running of the $150,000 Dominion Day Stakes (G3) at Woodbine on Canada Day, July 1.

It had been a long, long time since Bond and her sister Julie Wright had been able to attend racing at Woodbine due to Covid-19. Almost two years.

And it had been since December 2019 that any fans had been permitted into Canada’s great racetrack.

Fans of every age took in racing in person at Woodbine for the first time since 2019.

Woodbine Entertainment put on an exceptional, well-organized day of racing to greet its fans. Fans made online reservations for a spot in the large grandstand (the one outdoor restaurant Champions was also opened for limited capacity) and to illustrate how excited people were to see racing up close again, a lineup to check in began nearly three hours before first race post time. It was almost like Saratoga as fans selected their own seats and then basked in the sun and listened to Robert Geller’s race calls all afternoon while watching horses parade on the track.

Fans could only go inside a small section indoors to place bets at mutuel machines  or visit the Tim Horton’s. Never at any time was there a large gathering in one area, masks were worn and heck, everyone was just happy to be there.

How fitting it was that on a steamy July 1st there was a buzz from the grandstand as some 1,000+ real-life humans cheered on every break from the gate of every race on the afternoon, enjoying a cool beverage and beautiful Thoroughbreds and their personable jockeys.








Fans grabbing a close-up look at Mighty Heart as he makes his way on to the track July 1.

How fitting it was, too, when Canada’s reigning Horse of the Year returned to the site of his famous win in the Queen’s Plate, the first Plate run in front of an empty grandstand, and romped to victory in the Dominion Day.

“Quite a difference,” said Mighty Heart’s overjoyed owner Larry Cordes about watching his horse in person with fans in attendance. “The feeling was much, much better. So many fans were behind him.”

Cordes, who had a group of friends and family enjoying lunch in the outdoor dining area of Champions restaurant, had not seen his homebred colt by Dramedy – Emma’s Bullseye, City Place race in person since the Prince of Wales at Fort Erie last fall.  Also back on the team was Daisuke Fukumoto, the colt’s Plate and ‘Wales-winning rider.

Trained by Josie Carroll. Mighty Heart jumped to the lead out of the gate for the 1 1/16 mile Dominion Day and crossed to the rail as he headed into the first turn. A pair of Mark Casse-trained graded stakes winners, Lookin to Strike stalked in behind with the favoured March to the Arch just outside pressing the pace.

After a quarter in :25.23 and half-mile in :48.49, the pressure mounted as March to the Arch matched strides with Mighty Heart on the turn while Malibu Mambo rallied three-wide into contention as they passed three-quarters in 1:11.99. However, Mighty Heart fought back and pulled clear of his rivals down the lane to score in 1:43.33.

“I’m glad to get the opportunity to ride this horse again,” said Fukumoto, who enjoyed a career highlight with Mighty Heart when they won last year’s $1 million Queen’s Plate. “I breezed him a couple times and today I was ready to go, and we did it today.”

Mighty Heart was well prepared for his return to Woodbine, coming off a hard-fought victory in the Blame Stakes last time out on May 29 at Churchill Downs.

“I thought it [the Blame Stakes] just put him right where I wanted him,” said the four-year-old colt’s Hall of Fame trainer. “In fact, he had two works after that, simply because he came out of it so well. We had to sort of take the high note off of him a little bit four days ago so he could settle in this race.

“I think he’s just a good horse and he’s maturing. We’re pretty happy with him today.”

Mighty Heart, now five for 11 in his career, was cheered as he was led into the winner’s circle, but Cordes’ family that included daughter and son Angela and Darin, grandchildren Jennifer, Megan, and Toni, and a host of friends. Plenty of Mighty Heart t-shirts from Old Smoke Clothing were spotted.

“This morning, Mighty Heart slept and was snoring,” said Cordes. “And then he got up and nipped the groom, Siobhan Brown, about six times.”

What will be next for Mighty Heart is an interesting discussion his team will have in the coming days. The next graded stakes race on the main track at Woodbine is not until September, the Seagram Cup, but there are stakes races on the grass. Or could the popular one-eyed wonder head to the US again ?

No doubt Ontario racing fans hope to see the colt in person again soon.

Woodbine will continue to offer online registration for every racing day, Thursday through Sunday, until Step 3 in the provincial re-opening plan, which could see the casino at Woodbine re-open.