Email from Woodbine CEO Jim Lawson to its Horsepeople, March 23, 2020:
Considering today’s news that the Government of Ontario is mandating that all non-essential businesses be closed by 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24th, we are making immediate changes to the Woodbine Backstretch operations effective Tuesday, March 24, at Noon.
These changes to our backstretch operations (which are described below) also impact our ability to open the 2020 Thoroughbred season on April 18. Until further notice, the start of the 2020 meet will be postponed.
Once the Government of Ontario allows non-essential businesses to re-open, training operations at the Woodbine Backstretch will resume and at that time we will determine an appropriate new start date for the 2020 Thoroughbred season.
It goes without saying that these are very uncertain and difficult times. We cannot thank you enough for your support, cooperation and understanding. Please know that we are doing everything we can to be a socially responsible business while also never losing sight of the interests of horsepeople and the entire horse racing industry in the Province.
Please see below for how our backstretch operations will be impacted starting tomorrow.
If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Updated Woodbine Backstretch Operations
(Following consultations with the HBPA) – The essential daily care of the horses will be maintained, as it is on farms throughout Ontario. The safety and welfare of the horses continues to be of the highest priorities for Woodbine Entertainment and the entire horse person community.
Essential animal care workers will continue to be provided with access to our backstretch under the current screening and safety protocols we have in place today to feed and care for their horses. Essential daily care includes light exercise (jogging and galloping) but does not include workouts.
Training operations, including timed workouts and starting gate operations, will no longer be offered until further notice. The dirt and turf training tracks will be closed. The Main Track and the Sand Ring will be open daily 5:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.
The dormitories will remain open for residents. The Backstretch Kitchen operations are suspended until further notice. Essential security personnel will remain on site, along with essential track surface and stall office personnel only.
The Woodbine backstretch has been open for training since the first weekend of March and already hundreds of horses have had timed workouts preparing for the start of the season. This week, however, and after today’s news, some trainers have begun shipping their horses out of Woodbine and back to farms.
“I shipped out all my horses yesterday (Sunday),” said trainer and owner Denyse McClachrie, who had 14 at Woodbine, “due to what’s going on with the virus and how contagious and deadly it is. My owners and I decided it’s not worth my staff and our families’ risk of contracting it. Hopefully with limited interaction with people, it will help stop the spread.”
Others with smaller stables of trainers who own some of their horses were making plans Monday to take their horses back to the farm.
“Unfortunately, we’re working on it,” said owner/trainer Michelle Love on Monday evening.
“I haven’t talked to my owners yet, but I can’t justify charging them day rate with no future race date. It’s okay for the 2-year-olds but without a race date, hard to prep an older horse.”
Martin Drexler, Woodbine’s third-leading trainer by wins, has 40 horses at Woodbine and currently does not have plans to move them off the grounds.
“At this point, the horses are doing well and historically, I don’t usually have my horses ready to go right at the beginning of the season,” said Drexler. “At this time of year, I am not making any money with them but at some point they will have to start racing.”
Drexler said he would be hoping for a mid-May start but knows that the COVID-19 pandemic is still on an upward curve in Ontario.
“This is a lot more serious than a lot of people think it is. I think we are doing the right things here but there isn’t a soul in the world who knows how long this could go on for.”
Drexler is one of many trainers who have been training their horses at Woodbine concerned about the arrival of hundreds of horses from their winter locations in the U.S.
Vans began arriving this week from Florida and other locations with people and horses who have been away all winter.
Colleen Dalos and her father, Ivan Dalos, have a big stable of horses and vans are headed north now with many of them. “It is hard to plan the best care for horses with no sense of timing. Turn them out/stop all training? Or stay at Woodbine?”