“Clearly, the government was ignorant of the economic scope of the industry and its importance in providing jobs in rural Ontario.”

That sentence was written almost exactly seven years ago, April 11, 2014, by Dave Briggs for Thoroughbred Racing Commentary about the disastrous cancellation of the slots at racetracks partner program in 2012.

It was the Liberal government in Ontario that nearly wiped out a huge industry by taking back a small percentage of slot machine revenue that horse racing collected after agreeing to put slot machines in its racetracks. It was only when Ontario Liberal power changed over to Kathleen Wynne and a full-on, aggressive campaign by the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association that racing was pledged back a portion of the money it was going to lose each year.

While clearly a different scenario, Ontario horse racing is in a fight to survive once again as the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to devastate, 13 months since it was declared worldwide.

Standardbred, Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing in Ontario employs tens of thousands of people and is integral to the province’s economy.

There have been several shutdowns of the racing industry across all three breeds in the past year; many lost racing dates in an environment with so many business owners suffering.

The recent ‘shutdown order’ and the current Stay-at-Home Emergency order, issued April 8 by Premier Doug Ford, has halted Standardbred racing at Woodbine Mohawk and will shutdown Woodbine Thoroughbreds that was set to begin its 65th season on April 17. This, despite the fact that racing at those tracks, as well as Ajax Downs and Fort Erie, went on with shortened seasons and under very strict protocols in 2020, keeping the industry afloat – only just barely.

When the lockdown was announced in Ontario last November and Woodbine’s final 12 racing days were not allowed to be completed despite its great record of racing in its own bubble, it became evident that the government had turned a deaf ear. Now, with racing gearing up under the same strict protocols at Woodbine, Ajax and Fort Erie and racing having been going along well at Woodbine Mohawk and other harness tracks, it appears racing cannot get government attention.

Ontario racing needs a guarantee that racing will be allowed to get started when the lockdown order is lift. Racing organizations and horse people across all breeds and tracks must voice their opinion to let the government know that this province-wide industry is at risk.

Woodbine is seeking the support of Toronto Public Health to get an on-site vaccination clinic for the approximately 1,000 backstretch workers who qualify in Phase 2 of the Government of Ontario’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plan as essential frontline workers who cannot work remotely. With this support in place together with the continued ‘racing bubble’, there is no reason government could not allow racing to begin May 6.

Relevant contact info:

Doug Ford – Contact the Premier

Councillor Michael Ford – [email protected]

Dr. Eileen de Villa – [email protected]

Minster of of Sports/Tourism – Lisa MacLeod

MPP for Nepean 250B Greenbank Rd. Suite 222, Nepean, ON K2H 8X4

Phone: 613-823-2116 Fax: 613-823-8284 [email protected]

 

For Woodbine horsepeople, send a note for the Toronto Board of Health to consider before Monday:

MONDAY APRIL 12 Toronto Board of Health MEETING: use this link, click Email Item.

send to [email protected] and write a short note about ITEM HL 27.1