“I am still very confident that we will have a great racing season, but right now we have some short-term pain here for longer-term gain.”
Woodbine Entertainment CEO Jim Lawson spoke to Ontario horsepeople on Friday, April 23 in regards to the delay in Thoroughbred racing at Woodbine and the postponement of Standardbred racing at Woodbine Mohawk.
The Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage on in Canada and Ontario has been logging its highest numbers of positive tests and hospital stays in a year. The arrival of variants in the province has spread quickly through the population.
The short-term pain comes in the form of an outbreak on the Woodbine backstretch. After a year of virtually no Covid-19 positives in racing and none on the Woodbine backstretch, there are numerous affected people in the Woodbine barn area to the point where Barn 33 was shut down on April 22.
“We have a serious situation on our hands,” said Lawson. “We, Woodbine, closed one barn and all the personnel is quarantined. We don’t like it, the personnel doesn’t like it, but we have to take this very seriously. There are other barns with Covid positives; we are in a very precarious position right now.”
Lawson noted that there has been evidence that some backstretch workers have not been truthful upon entering the barn area about their current health or that of people they live with. “That has been so disappointing.”
Barn 33 includes the horses of one of the leading trainers at Woodbine, Kevin Attard, who has moved the horses to other barns or a nearby training centre.
Lawson said Toronto Public Health will be recommending medical masks and there will be a higher amount of security in the barn area to ensure all workers are following protocols.
Woodbine has also been in talks with Golden Gate which had to shut down racing due to several hundred Covid positives at that San Francisco track. Golden Gate managed to return to racing and interestingly, sent the Covid negative people home from the barn area and kept the Covid positive people who were feeling well in the barns.
Ontario Racing, COSA, the HBPA and area MPP’s are involved in plans with Woodbine and Lawson says he is hopeful for racing to begin after the current lockdown has been lifted.
“We need people to get vaccinated. It is up to the horsepeople and society in general, we have to police ourselves. None of us want to live in a police state, but we want and need to do the right thing. Horsepeople have to have a plan if they do get shut down, if the impact increases there may be a need for more horses to ship out.”
The Stay-at-Home order in Ontario has currently been extended to May 20 and could be extended further. “I wouldn’t count on beginning before May 20 but we are making the argument that if golf is allowed back, then horse racing should be.”