There's a sense of urgency that has seemingly combined with mixed messages for Ontario's horse racing industry, and the product of those two items is leaving the province's horsepeople in an extremely challenging position.
On the Thoroughbred side, the start of the 2021 season at Woodbine Racetrack has been delayed given the lockdown and subsequent stay-at-home order, prompting stables to reconsider their options. Top Standardbred horsemen like Bob McClure and Jody Jamieson have started a stateside exodus. Woodbine Entertainment CEO Jim Lawson wants action from the province.
According to an article in the Toronto Sun, Lawson negotiated to have a mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinic on the Woodbine backstretch last week, but was told later that there were not enough vaccines available.
Lawson told The Sun that a recent discussion regarding Woodbine's situation Toronto’s chief medical officer Dr. Eileen de Villa was positive, but there's only so much authority in the hands of public health.
“The city of Toronto people were great. They took the time to understand. The problem is, they don’t have the authority to change the provincial policy or grey zone language.
“We’re entirely focused on getting this grey zone language changed and I’m not giving up the ghost of the potential to start racing during a stay at home order because if they start to open up things like playgrounds, if they potentially open up golf courses again, then we need to be right at the table,” said the former CFL board chair. “If they’re going to pick up the pen and change the approach to golf courses, then pick up the pen and listen to us in regards to horse racing too.”
Lawson told The Sun that he's looking for the Ford government to officially acknowledge that horse racing can be conducted safely during a pandemic.
“Horse racing people are pleading with me to give them a thread of hope so they can go back to their owners and say, ‘I talked to Jim. It looks like we’re going to be able to race.’ But I can’t give them that assurance or hope because, quite frankly, I’m tired of giving people hope,” he admitted. “I’ve had good discussions (with the province and Toronto Health) but nothing seems to be happening. I’m banging my head against the wall. I don’t even know where to turn anymore. It’s not like I’m not having the right discussions with the right people. But someone has to spend an hour – whatever the time is – to go through what we’re doing.”
The current stay-at-home order in Ontario ends on May 20. On Monday, the province announced that it will offer the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to individuals aged 40 and over at pharmacy and primary care settings across the province starting April 20.