Woodbine Entertainment hosted a Stronger Together town hall meeting on the backstretch on Wednesday, November 22 with new CEO Michael Copeland, Bill Ford (General Counsel & Executive Vice-President of Racing) and Tim Lawson (Vice-President of Thoroughbred Racing) .
Topics discussed included racing dates for 2024, purses, the King’s Plate date, property development, wagering and repair of the E.P. Taylor turf course.
There will be 129 racing dates in 2024 which is down from the 133 dates that were penciled in for 2023. However, there were several dates lost this year due to smoke, air quality, and heat. The Thoroughbred season is tentatively scheduled to begin April 27.
Purses of $62 million will remain the same. The King’s Plate will be held on a Saturday next year, August 17.
The 5,000-seat theatre located on the property with the new casino and hotel should be open by year’s end and stores will be opening on the property in the near future.
Wagering is down with a few weeks left in the season. Ontario wagering on Woodbine is down just over eight percent and overall wagering of $536,259,647 is down five per cent from $564,806,212 at this time last year. The handle per race of $521,146 is just about even with last year – $522,969.
Factors contributing to the slight declines, according to Copeland, include lost racing dates not just at Woodbine, but at other tracks and the difficult economic environment which has costs increasing in every sector.
Average field size of 8.1 is down slightly from 8.2.
The panel announced initial plans to rebuild a portion of the world-renowned E.P. Taylor Turf Course at Woodbine Racetrack.
Woodbine has purchased new Kentucky bluegrass to install over a rebuilt five-furlong section of the E.P. Taylor Turf Course backstretch. The project will also include the installation of a new drainage system, allowing for the possibility of an extended turf season.
Although the E.P. Taylor Turf Course project will not begin until 2025 at the earliest, planning is well underway.
In addition to the E.P. Taylor Turf Course project, Woodbine has recently installed a covering over the bet365 Inner Turf Course. The cover will protect all seven furlongs of the Inner Turf throughout the winter months and opens the possibility of allowing turf racing to begin earlier next season.
Woodbine racing was made available on the sports betting platform bet365 this past summer. The wagering through the bet365 platform is pari-mutuel and goes right into the Woodbine pools.
“It gets us into a whole new group of racing fans, and puts us alongside other sports,” said Copeland. “We believe we are one of the best sports offerings anywhere.”
Horse racing’s core bettors continue to flock to Woodbine’s HPIBet.com, which offers wagering on virtually every major racetrack in the world. All or most of the wagering revenues through HPIBet, including wagering on Fort Erie and other Ontario tracks, goes to Woodbine.
Horsepeople in attendance at the meeting voiced their concerns over several issues including the Woodbine policy that does not allow horses to leave Woodbine to race at Fort Erie during the summer season, lack of marathon-type distance races on turf, and raising the lowest level of claiming races at Woodbine.