Early last fall, Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield was asked by Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) to participate in an interesting experiment — to work three horses clockwise on the famed E.P. Taylor Turf Course at Woodbine Racetrack. The idea was to explore whether WEG could better utilize one of its most prized assets by regularly carding races going the opposite direction.

The eight-time Queen’s Plate winner even took his own horse for a spin going the opposite direction and was impressed with what he saw and heard.

“The horses did beautifully,” Attfield said. “The grading on that top turn is very, very good. It carries them around that turn really well. I was surprised, actually. I didn’t realize — and the jockeys didn’t realize — the grading on that turn was so good.”

Attfield said jockeys Emma-Jayne Wilson, Patrick Husbands and David Moran raved about it, in fact.

“They loved it. They thought it was a good idea. All three of those riders have ridden right-handed. Patrick Husbands coming from Barbados, they run right-handed there. Both David Moran and Emma-Jayne Wilson have ridden both ways different times in different places in the world. It’s definitely worthwhile a try.”

That’s exactly what WEG chief executive officer Jim Lawson is thinking.

“Why not run clockwise? What’s wrong with that? We never thought of it before. Let’s try something different. Let’s build some innovation and excitement back in this game,” Lawson said. “The idea really relates to the fact that we’ve got this world class turf course and a good part of it doesn’t get used unless we’re running a mile-and-a-quarter or a mile-and-a-half on the grass.”

“That is a waste of the course,” said Attfield who indicated the idea has been discussed at Woodbine for a few years. “I think it’s an excellent idea… To get more racing in on that turf course it would be advantageous to use that top turn.”

Lawson said the plan is to card some 25 races in the spring going the opposite direction.

“It doesn’t seem to impact the horses at all. I appreciate from a handicapping angle that some horses may turn right better than they turn left, but that’s a handicapping angle. I don’t think, from the experts we talked to, the horses notice the difference,” Lawson said.

Attfield said the change may, in fact, be good for most horses.

“I think it’s better for them if they’re not always running the same way around all the time,” he said. “I think it’s better for them physically to use both sides of their bodies equally.”

Lawson said he hopes racing clockwise could attract some horses from Europe to race at Woodbine. He said there are logistical hurdles, but Woodbine’s purses are better than many European tracks and, with the option to possibly race clockwise, it all might prove enticing enough for someone to think about sending a stable to Woodbine for the summer.

“That’s part of the thinking. Again, as we struggle for horse supply and when you look at the overnight purses at many of the racetracks in Europe relative to the overnight purses here, there’s a possibility,” Lawson said of attracting some runners from across the Atlantic. Though, he was careful to point out he really doesn’t know if it will be enticing enough. “Obviously, there’s the impediment with the shipping costs. That is something that we may be able to sell for overnight races to European trainers. With the size of our purses, which are expected to be similar in 2016 to our purses in 2015, we think there may be an opportunity. There are a lot of logistical issues and cost issues. It’s an issue we need to work on, but it is something that as we move forward may help satisfy our horse supply issues.”

Lawson said Woodbine could even add a second turf course in the future.

Currently, standardbreds race at Woodbine in the winter on a dirt track that was a thoroughbred turf oval prior to harness racing coming to the facility in 1994. WEG is exploring the possibility of standardbreds racing at its Mohawk Racetrack year-round, which would allow the company to put in a new turf track where the harness racing oval is now. A lot of that is dependent on casino expansion at both facilities.

In the nearer term, WEG has replaced its Polytrack surface with Tapeta. Thanks to mild December weather, the installation of the new track is complete.

Lawson said there are business advantages to Tapeta.

“It’s a very consistent surface, so people coming up here or shipping up here to run know what they’re going to run on,” Lawson said. “Our numbers show us that our biggest selling point is our turf course. We’re looking at ways of increasing our turf racing. Horses that ship in to run on our turf, they at least have the luxury of knowing that if there’s a rainstorm… and the race comes off the turf, they will run on a Tapeta surface. That way they’re not faced with scratching the horse on a sloppy or muddy track.

“We will average fewer scratches when a race moves from a grass surface to a Tapeta surface.”

Lawson said field size is critical to WEG’s bottom line.

“There’s such a direct correlation between field size and wagering,” he said. “Across North America, every racetrack is struggling with horse supply and field size. Part of the challenge here is to try and increase wagering faced with not only the competition for the entertainment and wagering dollar, but also in our own world, even if we have the wagers there, they’re just not going to wager the same amount of money when field sizes are down.”

Field size is also at the heart of why Lawson wants to make racing the opposite way on the turf a regular feature at Woodbine.

“It’s a novel idea that we think our horsemen will like and our wagerers will like. We certainly know our horsemen and our wagerers like grass racing. Our field sizes are bigger on grass… you seem to get more wagering on grass.

Bottom line, he said, racetracks need to take some risks.

“It’s time to shake up the game a little bit and try to bring new product to people,” Lawson said.