Earlier this week Woodbine announced a new measure to preserve the horse population at their track. “Any horse that leaves Woodbine to race at Fort Erie Racetrack will be required to Race and Stay for the meet. These horses will not be permitted to return to Woodbine to stable until the fall stall application in mid-October,” read an edict released on July 7th.
“All our stalls are allocated,” noted Woodbine’s Senior Vice-President of Racing, Jessica Buckley, of the 2,000 stalls available at Woodbine. “We had previously closed the sales barns, but re-opened them because of demand. One had remained closed and was being used for EHV-1 outbreak containments until recently. In retrospect, we were very fortunate to have that barn available.”
As with all tracks in North America, both Woodbine and Fort Erie have been suffering with a horse shortage problem for several years now. Woodbine argues that this measure is necessary since the horses on their backstretch stable and use the training facilities free of charge. In return, these horses must remain at Woodbine to race and generate much-needed revenue from wagering.
“I can understand the stand that Woodbine is taking,” commented Bill Therranos, who trains at both tracks. “Why should they basically rent an apartment and let someone use their facility, go to another jurisdiction and then expect to come back? I race at Gulfstream, and Gulfstream doesn’t allow you to do it. You’re allotted X amount of stalls, and there is a need for stalls at Woodbine right now. I need stalls!”
Therranos is like many trainers who have the bulk of their horses at Woodbine, but would have sent a couple to race at Fort Erie. Competition is tough at Woodbine, so owners and trainers may choose to race a horse at a lower level where it’s more competitive.
Woodbine had proposed a new set of conditions which would eliminate competition between the two tracks.
“We proposed that Fort Erie would only host lower-end races and horses would move up to Woodbine,” explained Buckley of discussions with the other track. “But they declined.”
Historically, Ontario trainers have relied on the two tracks to train their horses. The bulk of Ontario trainers will use Fort Erie to train horses to become confident as racehorses, or as a place for horses that aren’t up to the top level at Woodbine. They keep their main string of horses at Woodbine, but will ship one out on occasion when necessary.
“In the past couple of years that hasn’t happened and we tried to set that up with them, but they weren’t willing to do it,” said Buckley. “We calculate that it would represent about 10 new horses a week going to Fort Erie, plus the revenue that would generate for their local horsemen.”
“The problem with their proposal is that it would have taken 41 per cent of the races we run this year and they would have lost four races,” countered Fort Erie racetrack COO Tom Valiquette. “They proposed our maximum be a $6,200 claiming tag with no allowance or anything else with the exemption of the Prince of Wales. We countered with a higher amount, but they said no.
“I don’t think it’s good business at all. First of all, what their policy is would potentially put us out of business and have next to no impact on theirs. So far we’ve run 11 days and a total of 53 horses have shipped in to run here, while 19 horses have left here to race at Woodbine. So over a five or six week period it’s a net of 34 horses that have made their way from Woodbine to us. It’s doubtful that would have made an impact on them, but it would have put us out of business.
“We are now running seven races per day and struggling, sometime its six races. There are probably been days we would have to cancel the card for lack of entries if we didn’t have Woodbine ship-ins.”
Stuck in the middle are the horsemen who are also already struggling with fewer race dates because of the pandemic.
“It’s going to affect our business,” said Therranos. “It’s upsetting, but I can understand where Woodbine is coming from with this. They’re losing an entry going to another track, and you’re borrowing their facilities. For example, this weekend I’m supposed to run a horse [at Fort Erie] that I think will win, an allowance horse, because we don’t have that race at Woodbine. We’ve got a lot of money in the horse but now if I run him there I can’t bring him back, which is a problem. So I’m going to have to take a risk with him now and run him for a claiming price at Woodbine ‒ and probably lose the horse.”