As the province-wide shutdown in Ontario continues past its initial end date through to its new extended expiration on May 20, Woodbine Racetrack in Rexdale is in talks to use its currently vacant facility for a large-scale community vaccine clinic.
Woodbine Entertainment CEO Jim Lawson said he is in contact with Rexdale Community Health and the University Health Network to set up a Covid-19 vaccination clinic in the racetrack’s grandstand for the people of the region as well as the on-track workers who reside in dorms on the backstretch, where recently the track contained 15 positive cases of Covid-19.
“It is critical, as the Rexdale community is a ‘hot zone’ for Covid-19 and Woodbine Entertainment is stepping up as a community partner to do our part during this pandemic,” Lawson said in an interview with Toronto Sun. “I anticipate it could be set up as early as this Wednesday (May 5).”
One of Lawson’s goals with the vaccine clinic is to provide hope to the community that both the rising case numbers can be curved and that the area could be safe to resume racing, which was supposed to begin at Woodbine on April 17. Racing across the province remains halted while Hastings in B.C. begins its meet on Monday (May 3) and Hippodrome 3R in Quebec starts its season Friday (May 7). Recently, Woodbine Entertainment also announced—because of the shutdown—the postponement of the $1,000,000 North America Cup from June 19 to Sept. 4. Though, many tracks have been allowed to resume training under in-place coronavirus protocols.
“All I’m looking for is to give the people some hope.” Lawson said. “If I can tell our people May 20 or June 1, everyone could plan and have some hope. Some people may still leave on the thoroughbred side, but I think its reasonable to think that we can conduct racing safely. It’s gone on all over the world. I know I sound a bit like a broken record and I’ve been careful to be respectful (to the province’s decisions) during the pandemic and also acknowledge that we’ve had an outbreak situation at Woodbine that we’re managing and working with health people to control. I acknowledge that it has to be under control and I think it will be under control.”
If the majority of workers on Woodbine’s backstretch and those who compete at Mohawk and Ontario’s other tracks get vaccinated, Lawson believes that the government will have to reconsider giving the green light to racing. And with many prominent Ontario horsepeople already leaving to race in the States, Lawson wants to act before the situation grows too dire for the industry to bounce back.
“All I really want to do for the horse people is to give them hope that we can resume again,” Lawson said. “I’m not trying to falsely keep people here (in Ontario), but if there was an acknowledgement that at the end of this stay-at-home order that we could start, I think that would be fair. I’m at a loss as to why we can’t give people hope and try to save a big part of this industry. I’m confident we’ll bounce back but unless we address this situation soon we’re going to do real big damage to this industry, and damage that will last.”
Lawson also expressed gratitude to some of the big barns at Woodbine Racetrack that have stepped up to get their staff vaccinated.
“I’m really thankful that some leaders like Catherine Day (Phillips) and Josie (Carroll) and others are going that route because that’s what we need,” Lawson said. “We need leaders in that backstretch, the trainers — particularly the ones with big stables — to lead the way and to go and get people vaccinated. So far, the early results are encouraging. We need more of that. And, quite frankly, that’s going to help us get started because at the end of the day, we’re going to be answerable to Eileen de Villa (Chief Medical Officer) and Toronto Public Health and we have to show that we’ve got this well under control.”