The long wait is soon to be over for Thoroughbred racing participants in Toronto as Woodbine gets back in the gate Saturday June 6 at 1 p.m. with an 11-race card.
Following the Government of Ontario’s Stage 1 public health guidelines for easing COVID-19 restrictions, Woodbine will host live racing without spectators. Fans can watch and wager on HPIbet.com or via the new Dark Horse app, or tune in to the live stream available on Woodbine.com.
The highly-anticipated opening weekend will feature live racing on Saturday and Sunday. The racing schedule will expand to four days per week with Thursdays (3:45 p.m. post time) and Fridays (1 p.m. post time) added in the coming weeks.
Big purses await owners and trainers who have missed 25 racing dates (the season was originally scheduled to open April 18) and it is because of the efforts of Woodbine Entertainment, under CEO Jim Lawson, the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, under president Sue Leslie and Ontario Racing, under chair John Hayes, that racing was ready to resume once the provincial government had horse racing in its Stage 1 re-opening process.
There is a seven page document addressing protocols that must be followed by participants in order to race.
Saturday’s first card of racing has full fields, races on the Tapeta and both grass courses and lofty purses for the higher-level races.
The featured ninth race, an allowance event at 7 1 1/2 furlongs on the grass for fillies and mares, offers a purse of $112,500 – up some 20% from a year ago. The field has drawn a stakes-calibre group including multiple stakes winner and three-time Sovereign Award nominee in 2019, AMALFI COAST, owned and bred by Terra Racing.
Trained by Kevin Attard, Amalfi Coast ended her 2019 season with three straight stakes victories and she wintered in Florida.
Piano Bar Stable’s RED CABERNET is also a multiple stakes winner and she has won over $329,000 in her career for the barn, trainer Ian Black and regular rider Emma-Jayne Wilson.
With Woodbine’s longtime leading rider Eurico Rosa da Silva retired, there are 180 winners from 2019 up for grabs for the 2020 jockey colony. The top riders who have chased Eurico in previous years are back, Rafael Hernandez, Kazushi Kimura, Patrick Husbands (who led all riders in 2019 by stakes wins), Luis Contreras, Gary Boulanger, Wilson, etc. and there are new faces to consider as the season begins:
DARRYL HOLLAND, one of Europe’s most successful jockeys, has moved his tack to Canada for this year and will be represented by agent Mike Luider, who also handles the book of Wilson.
LARRY MUNOZ, one of Alberta’s top riders in recent years, has been at Woodbine since March and is represented by agent Al Raymond.
And JASON ‘Jet Lee’ HOYTE will be riding at Woodbine for the first time after recently returning to the saddle in Barbados after a 14-year hiatus. Read more about Jason here.
Kevin Attard comes off career year, his champ Jubilee ready to go
“Everybody is doing their part and following the protocols,” said trainer Kevin Attard, who is coming off a career-best season during which his stable earned 66 wins (61 at Woodbine) and more than $3.2 million in purses. “Obviously, everybody has the same goal and that’s to be able to race. We’re all looking forward to it. It’s been a hard-fought battle to get where we’re at and we’re down the stretch right now and the finish line’s in sight. We’re all looking forward to Saturday.”
Attard currently has 65 horses stabled on the Woodbine backstretch including Starship Jubilee, who was named 2019 Canadian Horse of the Year in a virtual presentation of the Sovereign Awards on May 19.
Owned by Blue Heaven Farm, the Indy Wind mare edged out champion sprinter Pink Lloyd for the national honours by three votes (108-105) after putting together a six-year-old campaign that included wins in the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor Turf Stakes and Grade 2 Canadian Stakes Presented by the Japan Racing Association.
After going three-for-three in stakes action down south over the winter and freshening up in Ocala, Florida, Starship Jubilee recently returned to Woodbine and breezed three furlongs in :39 on Sunday in preparation for her next targets.
“The Nassau [scheduled for June 27] is something we’re going to look at – that’s the first step – and the long-term goal is to get to the Breeders’ Cup if we can. That’s something we’re going to be eyeing this year. She’s obviously been off to a fantastic start for 2020 — undefeated in three starts – so I just hope that momentum will carry forward with her and bring her to where we want to be in November.”
Woodbine’s stakes action will begin during the second weekend of the meet on Saturday, June 13 with the Woodstock Stakes and filly companion Star Shoot Stakes – key prep races on the road to the Queen’s Plate, which has been moved to September 12 due to the race date changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic closures.
Attard’s top contenders for the million-dollar Canadian classic, including the early season favourite Malibu Mambo and stablemate Clayton, have been nominated to the Woodstock.
“Obviously, September is a long way away and a lot can happen from now to then but I’m happy with all of the ones that we think are contenders at this point and we’ll hope for maybe some surprises along the way.”
New protocols and schedule changes are not the only adjustments to be made. Another will be the absence of one of his main riders, six-time leading jockey Eurico Rosa Da Silva, who retired at the end of the 2019 Woodbine meet.
“We’re going to be using a few riders and seeing who we click with,” said Attard. “Obviously, Eurico and I had great success together. It’s going to be hard to replicate that, but I’m just waiting for that somebody to jump in those boots and take over those reins.”