Ontario Horse Racing Industry Calls for Help from Government Amid Shutdown
April 12, 2021
With horse racing suspended in Ontario amid the latest shutdown and stay-at-home order from the provincial government, the industry is calling for help from the government.
While horse racing is an outdoor sport, it has been shut down while other outdoor sports such as golf have been allowed to continue. The start of the thoroughbred season at Woodbine has been pushed back from April 17 to May 6, and may well ultimately be delayed futher.
Couple this with the fact that most other jurisdictions in North America and in other parts of the world have allowed horse racing to continue, and Ontario's horse racing industry is frustrated and ailing. Ontario feels unfairly singled out.
"I’m fine for golfing to continue, I’m just saying where’s the comparison to racing where we have very strict protocols and it’s also outside?" Woodbine Entertainment CEO Jim Lawson told the Toronto Sun.
In particular, the fact that almost all U.S. racetracks are still in operation could be devastating for the Ontario industry, says Lawson.
"What that means for us is – and this cannot be underestimated – our horsemen are leaving in droves on the standardbred side and they’re starting to leave on the thoroughbred side," Lawson told the Sun. "In addition, people are not shipping in. Racetracks are operating full tilt in northern United States and that makes it very easy for these people to pick up and leave and it’s going to do damage – maybe irreparable damage – to the health of our industry."
The Sun notes that Lawson and the horse racing community argue that track workers are deemed essential workers as they are needed for the caring and training of the animals at the track. These are (generally speaking, at least) the same workers used for racing events, so racing argues that pulling the plug means these workers are being denied the chance to continue making a living and providing for their families.
Pleas for support
Last week, Woodbine Entertainment and the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association of Ontario (HBPA) sent a letter to Toronto’s chief medical officer asking that Toronto Public Health (TPH) set up an on-site "pop-up" vaccination clinic on Woodbine’s property in north Etobicoke for the vaccination of approximately 1,000 of those agricultural workers.
The letter, signed by Lawson and HBPA president Sue Leslie, stated: "As we have more than 1,000 essential agricultural personnel working on our property daily, 300 of whom live on-site in dormitories, the Woodbine stabling area is an ideal candidate for a mobile vaccination unit or pop-up vaccination clinic and should be prioritized, especially considering it also in a hot zone. This ‘pop-up’ vaccination clinic would provide our essential personnel with a very convenient and accessible opportunity to be vaccinated and would further safeguard our operations and community from a COVID-19 outbreak."
It added that Woodbine and the HBPA would be willing to provide the government and TPH with "any resources or assistance required to execute the vaccination clinic."
Lawson additionally noted his frustration that horse racing is not recognized as an economic backbone of Ontario. He stresses that Woodbine's thoroughbreds and standardbreds have shown a remarkable resilience to COVID-19 while conducting racing without spectators.
"We’ve operated 10 months almost during this pandemic at Mohawk, four to five nights a week, without a single COVID transmission, period," said Lawson.
Some assistance offered
Ontario Racing has announced that some funds remain available under the OLG’s funding agreement that may be applied for struggling horse people.
Benefit payments will be made available to affected and qualifying applicants, Ontario Racing has said, and the organization's John Hayes added that the regulator is more than willing to extend additional aid in the form of financial benefits to those most severely affected by the newest stoppage.
Ontario Racing announced earlier this month that horse people and horses that were scheduled to race at Woodbine Mohawk Park, Rideau Carleton, and Western Fair on the weekend of April 3-4, will qualify for a once-off benefit of $300. All races for that particular weekend at the mentioned racetracks were drawn.
Also available to qualifying participants is a monthly benefit payment for the month of April amounting to $1,000. Those eligible will have not participated in any out-of-province horse racing events or training sessions. Qualifying horses must be stabled in Ontario, and applicants must have a carted provincial line for stabling in 2021.
$1,000 in relief aid is also available for 3- and 4-year-old horses that have not yet raced in 2021, as well as horses that have started in Ontario between September 1 and December 23, 2020, and were stabled in the province until December 23.