Government lockdown forces Woodbine Entertainment to end thoroughbred season early

Mighty Heart is taken out of trainer Josie Carroll's stable by exercise rider Des McMahon, before being breezed at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto on October 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO - A thoroughbred racing season that was delayed due to COVID-19 is also ending prematurely because of the pandemic.

Woodbine Entertainment has announced that Sunday will be the final day of the 2020 season. Several races planned for Sunday were cancelled due to weather, including snow, fluctuating temperatures and mixed precipitation.

News of the truncated sesaon came two days after the Ontario government revealed its new COVID-19 measures.

On Friday, the government moved Toronto and Peel Region — two COVID-19 hot spots — into lockdown. That means the shutdown of businesses such as salons and gyms, while restaurants will move to takeout only and retail to curbside pickup.

The new restrictions come into effect at 12:01 a.m. ET on Monday.

The revamped 2020 thoroughbred season was slated to end Dec. 13.

“We have been, and continue to be, extremely supportive of the Government’s efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 throughout our province and appreciate the many difficult decisions they have to make," Woodbine CEO Jim Lawson said in a statement Sunday. "We have approached the government to explain the impacts this decision will have on our business and the horse racing industry in Ontario.

"With a better understanding of our operations and based on our safety record in operating live racing at our racetracks, we hope that the government will consider these impacts in the future and assist us in managing the potentially devastating impact to horsepeople and animal welfare this early shutdown will cause.”

Woodbine Entertainment said it has about 1,300 employees either temporarily or permanently laid off as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It added this shutdown also negatively impacts the about 2,000 horsepeople on the Woodbine backstretch, putting many of them out of work.

“Since we started racing at Woodbine and Mohawk Park in early June, we have demonstrated that racing without spectators poses no greater health risk to participants than training,” Lawson said. “We have been a leader in health and safety since the beginning of the pandemic and we are extremely proud of our record and the co-operation of our racing participants in maintaining safe racing environments.”

Under the new restrictions, horses can train only without spectators and not run in actual races. While there's been racing at Woodbine since June, all events have been conducted without fans in the stands.

The start of Woodbine's 2020 racing seasons — thoroughbred and standardbred — were delayed for several weeks due to the global pandemic before being allowed to begin on June 5.

Standardbred racing at Woodbine Mohawk Park in Campbelleville, Ont., which also began June 5, will continue. That track is located roughly 64 kilometres west of Toronto and outside of the lockdown boundaries.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 22, 2020.

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