Woodbine Asks For Clearance To Race

Published: March 20, 2021 05:54 pm EDT

Trot Insider has obtained copies of the letters sent by Woodbine Entertainment to both the Province of Ontario and the City of Toronto asking for officials to permit live horse racing while a region is placed under the Grey 'Lockdown' Zone of the province's COVID-19 Response Framework.

"We are asking for your support of our request of the Government of Ontario to allow live horse racing without spectators in a ‘Grey’ Lockdown situation as it poses no greater risk in transmitting the virus than when training horses," said Woodbine's CEO Jim Lawson in the letters. "Live horse racing without spectators involves the same people as training and only requires a limited number of additional people (broadcast operators, officials) to execute.

"It is also important to note that we operate live racing primarily outside and have very limited (to essential personnel only) and controlled access to all indoor areas like the paddock here essential staff are indoor in a large open-air building, for under 12 minutes, and fully following all COVID-19 Prevention Protocols."

The contents of the letters are available below.


LETTER FROM WOODBINE ENTERTAINMENT TO THE CITY OF TORONTO

Dear Mayor Tory and Dr. de Villa,

Re: COVID-19 Pandemic and Thoroughbred Racing

I hope you are doing well during these difficult times.

On behalf of Woodbine Entertainment, thank you for your ongoing efforts regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the Toronto region expected to remain in the ‘Grey’ Lockdown Zone of the Government of Ontario’s COVID-19 Response Framework, I am requesting your attention on a very important matter that impacts thousands of families in the City of Toronto.

Currently, the measures of the ‘Grey’ Lockdown Zone allow for the training of horses, but not live racing without spectators.

We already have 1,190 horses (a record number for this time of year) stabled on the Woodbine backstretch and expect hundreds more over the coming weeks. If we are not able to start our season as scheduled on April 17, many of these horses will be shipped to the United States which will result in the loss of thousands of jobs in Toronto.

To that end, we are asking for your support of our request of the Government of Ontario to allow live horse racing without spectators in a ‘Grey’ Lockdown situation as it poses no greater risk in transmitting the virus than when training horses. Live horse racing without spectators involves the same people as training and only requires a limited number of additional people (broadcast operators, officials) to execute. It is also important to note that we operate live racing primarily outside and have very limited (to essential personnel only) and controlled access to all indoor areas like the paddock here essential staff are indoor in a large open-air building, for under 12 minutes, and fully following all COVID-19 Prevention Protocols.

Further, we have been operating live racing at Woodbine Mohawk Park, located in the Halton Region, since February 18 without any on-site transmissions of the virus. In fact, dating back to June of last year when the Government of Ontario included horse racing in its Phase 1 of the reopening of the provincial economy, we have not had a single case of on-site transmission of the virus at Woodbine Mohawk Park and only one transmission at Woodbine Racetrack.

We are making this request as it is critically important for welfare of the horses, the sustainability of the industry, and the thousands of jobs in Toronto that our racing supports. The latest lockdown that suspended our racing at Woodbine Mohawk Park resulted in a fair number of horses and trainers taking their business to the United States and we have only recently started to see some of them return, while others may never return.

Finally, we would not be asking for your support if there was a heightened health risk to our employees or horse people. We have demonstrated over the last year that we are committed to the health and safety of all our stakeholders and are fully supportive of the Government’s efforts in the fight against COVID-19. We can ensure you that horse racing without spectators is just as safe as the training of horses.

On behalf of the entire horse racing industry, thank you for your consideration. I would be more than happy to discuss this request with you at any time.

Sincerely,

WOODBINE ENTERTAINMENT GROUP

Jim Lawson
CEO


LETTER FROM WOODBINE ENTERTAINMENT TO THE PROVINCE OF ONTARIO

Dear Minister Elliott and Dr. Williams,

Re: COVID-19 Pandemic and Thoroughbred Racing

I hope you are doing well during these difficult times.

On behalf of Woodbine Entertainment, thank you for your ongoing efforts regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

With rising daily case counts of the virus and potential third wave of the pandemic in Ontario, I am requesting your attention on a very important matter that impacts tens of thousands of families in Ontario.

Currently, the measures of the ‘Grey’ Lockdown Zone in the Government of Ontario’s COVID-19 Response Framework allow for the training of horses, but not live racing without spectators.

While we certainly are appreciative of the challenges in containing the virus, and have been very supportive of your efforts, we are requesting that horse racing without spectators is permitted in a ‘Grey’ Lockdown situation as it poses no greater risk in transmitting the virus than when training horses. Live horse racing without spectators involves the same people as training and only requires a limited number of additional people (broadcast operators, officials) to execute. It is also important to note that we operate live racing primarily outside and have very limited (to essential personnel only) and controlled access to all indoor areas like the paddock.

Currently, we are operating our backstretch with essential personnel only and right now have a record number of horses already stabling and training for this time of year. Further, we have been operating live racing at Woodbine Mohawk Park, located in the Halton Region, since February 18 without any on-site transmissions of the virus. In fact, dating back to June of last year when the Government of Ontario included horse racing in its Phase 1 of reopening of the provincial economy, we have not had a single case of on site transmission of the virus at Woodbine Mohawk Park and only one transmission at Woodbine Racetrack.

We are making this request as it is critically important for the welfare of the horses and the sustainability of the industry that we can start safely racing as scheduled. The latest lockdown that suspended our racing at Woodbine Mohawk Park resulted in a fair number of horses and trainers taking their business to the United States and we have only recently started to see some of them return, while others may never return.

We fear that another delay to the start of our racing season at Woodbine Racetrack or another temporary suspension of racing at Woodbine Mohawk Park will have catastrophic impacts to the industry, the welfare of the horses, and the tens of thousands of people it employs.

These horse people the industry employs are essential personnel who provide care for the thousands of racehorses in Ontario and cannot work remotely. With the Province’s plans to include agriculture and farm workers in Phase 2 of the vaccination plan, we strongly believe that our horse people should qualify. This would provide further protection to our horses, our backstretch and horse people community.

Finally, we would not be asking you for the ability to race during a lockdown situation if there was a heightened health risk to our employees or horse people. We have demonstrated over the last year that we are committed to the health and safety of all our stakeholders and are fully supportive of the Government’s efforts in the fight against COVID-19. We can ensure you that horse racing without spectators is just as safe as the training of horses.

On behalf of the entire horse racing industry, thank you for your consideration. I would be more than happy to discuss this request with you at any time.

Sincerely,
WOODBINE ENTERTAINMENT GROUP

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