“It is up to the die-hard horsemen to fight against the Covid lockdown so close to the original closing day of the 2020 season. The already struggling industry we dedicate our lives to can feel the effects of the economic loss.
“Our agricultural industry is the third largest in Ontario, and shutting down with 12 days left of the meet could be detrimental to owners, breeders, and trainers who are counting on starting horses.” – All About the LongShots
Woodbine’s horsepeople and the wide-ranging horse racing industry are rallying together this Monday morning after a tumultuous weekend in which the track was forced to announce its closure with just 12 racing dates remaining in the 2020 season.
The future of thousands of horsepeople and those who work with the Thoroughbred racing industry, as well as their horses, is threatened.
The Ontario government and health officials set Toronto and Peel areas second lockdown since the spring beginning at 12:01 a.m. Monday morning due to the rising number of positive COVID-19 cases.
Horse racing is on the list of locked down businesses; the Ontario government’s website notes “Training only, no racing, no fans” which is deemed unfair by horsepeople since the only people who have taken their horses over to race are those couple of people per horse who are training them.
Since Woodbine was allowed to start racing two months later, June 10, than its original opening day, there have been no fans and, other than for a few weeks in the summer, no owners. Yes, the same owners who buy and breed horses to race in Ontario have not been able to watch or visit their horses in 2020.
In fact, the measures taken by Woodbine Entertainment and the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association of Ontario, have been extremely strict allowing for only essential people onto the backstretch area to care for the Thoroughbreds with those few people taking the horses to race.
But with just 12 racing dates left, Woodbine Entertainment issued a press release early Sunday afternoon announcing the season would have to end.
“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,” said Jim Lawson, CEO, Woodbine Entertainment. “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 horsepeople and animal welfare this early shutdown will cause.”
The cancelled race cards (12) at Woodbine Racetrack represented a significant opportunity for horsepeople 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.
Horsepeople and industry members, the majority of which will not be back at work for several months and, with racing not expected to start again until, hopefully, April, are pleading their case.
The HBPA board, led by president Sue Leslie, has been working hard throughout the weekend to bend the ear of officials who certainly do not know that “training only” is done by the same few people who race the horses, the lengths the industry has gone to in maintaining an impeccable safety record throughout the pandemic nor the devastation that cancelling the final 12 days of the season would cause.
“It is unique, like no other business in Toronto,” said one horseperson. “With no spectators or owners present, it doesn’t make sense to cancel racing with only three weeks left in the season. The people training the horses are the same ones who take them over to race. They can continue as they have been all summer. With acres and acres of room, social/physical distancing has been easy and there has been no person-to-person transmissions.”
More than $8.4 million was wagered on Woodbine’s Saturday racing card, monies that go to help sustain racing, which involves some 20,000 families in all aspects of the business from racing to agriculture to transportation and more. The province also gleans a good deal of income from each racing day through wagering.
Without racing, however, there is no wagering. (Sunday’s racing card had to be cancelled after 6 races due to heavy snow and fluctuating temperatures).
The “All About the Longshots” Facebook page set up Sunday already has dozens of members speaking out and sending e-mails and messages to Premier Doug Ford in the hopes of an exemption to allow for the final 12 racing dates (through Dec. 13).
“Please sir. Let us finish the Thoroughbred racing season at Woodbine. So much suffering for all this year and yet we complied and did our best to stop COVID from coming to Woodbine. We need this for our horses.”
The Toronto Sun’s Steve Buffery reported on the devastation of the news of Woodbine’s closure in Monday’s paper:
“The majority of track workers make little money. Many are off the grid and actually live on the Woodbine grounds. Unlike other pro sports, there are no lucrative TV contracts in horse racing. Betting on the horses is everything. No racing, no betting, no money. For most track workers, there’s nothing to fall back on. These aren’t ‘urban professionals’ working in their home offices during the pandemic.”
From another horseperson:
“This is very unfair treatment considering the near flawless protocols and sacrifices that all horsepeople have made this year. This battle shouldn’t be about Woodbine, it is about the welfare of the horse and the loss of jobs of our horsepeople.”
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