Thoroughbred racing finally got back on track at Woodbine June 12, the end of a long, unsettling, and very tough seven months for horsepeople and those who work in horse racing. Horsepeople crammed the entry box and fans of the sport bet enthusiastically on 11 races. The total of $6.9 million was up from $5.5 million on June 6 opening day of 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic was just beginning.

A year later, not a lot has changed except that the vaccine roll-out to protect people from the virus and the deadly variants following along has helped most horsepeople get their first dose with the second soon to come. Owners are still not permitted (they were for a few weeks late last summer) and fans have not been at Woodbine since December 2019. Some media people were allowed, but only inside in the press box while photographers could go trackside.

But racing was back and purse money was up for grabs for owners who have been trying to stay afloat since the provincial government canceled 12 days of racing at the end of 2020 and delayed this year’s season since April 17.

Watching from home was the meeting’s first winning trainer, Bob Tiller, whose team sent out Five Days in May to win the $15,000 claiming race with Daisuke Fukumoto riding. Five Days in May is a homebred by Successful Appeal owned by Frank DiGiulio Jr.  Owner and trainer struck again in the finale with Simple Souvenir (Souper Speedy), ridden by Skye Chernetz.

Two wins on the first day of the meet are something to celebrate, but Tiller was even happier that his wife, Gail, had recently returned from a 36-day stay in a London, Ontario hospital, stricken by Covid-19. Tiller is also nursing himself as he recently had knee surgery. No doubt a couple of wins to start the year will boost the Tiller family’s spirits and everyone hopes they are back on their feet soon.

Also winning two races on the day was Bill Tharrenos, who won with Frank Russo’s DIVINE MARTHA in race 2 for $10,000 claiming. Ademar Santos, who has returned to Ontario to ride after an absence, won on board Divine Martha who was claimed for $20,000 in December at Gulfstream and was making her first start on Tapeta.

In race 6, Tharrenos trainee HIDDEN IDENTITY (Old Forester) won her career debut in a $7,500 claiming race by 11 1/2 lengths in 58.02 for five furlongs. That yielded her a whopping 84 Beyer Speed Figure from Daily Racing Form.  Emma-Jayne Wilson was on board the filly who is owned by Natural Eight Stable and J & B Wright racing.

The feature of the day was an allowance/optional claiming race at 7 1/2 furlongs on the inner turf for fillies and mares and the course record holder for the distance, ANOTHER TIME, won as the favourite for Hoolie Racing Stable and trainer Barbara Minshall. Another Time, by Munnings, set her record on the opening day of the 2020 meeting. Her win on Saturday in 1:29.11 earned her an 84 Beyer Figure.

Jockey Rafael Hernandez won a pair of races to quickly get himself back in the lead after taking last year’s title and Sovereign Award. One of his wins was a deft ride on Bruno Schickedanz’s Show Some Skin, a Souper Speedy filly who won a five-furlong turf race for trainer Norm McKnight.

But the rider also escaped a scary spill with no injuries in the last race. Hernandez was aboard the Souper Speedy filly SUPER JADE in race 11 when the filly fell when Queen Beach with Leo Salles on board appeared to drift out. Hernandez was up on his feet in minutes but the filly, owned by Patrick Paul and trained by McKnight, did not survive.

More winners: JUXTAPOSE won her season opener in a 1 1/16 miles turf race, an allowance worth $101,200, for James Redekop and Stefan Ferrario and trainer Steve Owens. This filly won four of nine races in 2019 and 2020 for trainer Terry Jordan and she is by Verrazano. Patrick Husbands rode.

Kevin Attard sent out Denton Ebanks’s SHEDAT to win a $25,000 claiming race for fillies and mares at seven furlongs. The Mr. Speaker filly was ridden by Justin Stein and it was  her second career win in eight races.

John Hillier and Jane Staples celebrated a win with LINDA LOVES LACE, who won her maiden for $25,000 in her season opener guided by trainer John Staples. The 4-year-old by Old Forester led most of the way under Steve Bahen.

Hall of fame trainer Roger Attfield sent out the first two finishers in race 8, a one mile maiden allowance on turf. Odds-on SPEIGHTSTOWN SHIRL, second in all three of her career races, held off CONFIDENT to win for Charles Fipke. The blue-blooded filly is by Speightstown out of Breeders’ Cup winner Perfect Shirl.

Dave Clancy is the owner and breeder of SPIDER BELLE, who dashed between fillies late to win her maiden in race 10 in her first race since October. The Wicked Strong – Spider Dust grey is trained by Dan Vella. Kazushi Kimura picked up his first win of the season.

The main track played fairly throughout the day but the Tapeta surface was on the slow side.


Five Days In May, by Successful Appeal from Maythefourthbewithu, won the first race on June 12 at Woodbine – Michael Burns photo