October 19, 2020

Lawson Cautiously optimistic on June Return for racing.

Some news is better than no news as trainers keep their horses sharp and tight readying for the word that racing will return to Ontario.

If racing is to return we need to be on the same page as today the challenges that face us due to covid-19 are ones we haven’t faced in a long time.

The scope of racing will change but we are ready for that.

Woodbine Entertainment CEO Jim Lawson has been cited as conveying that he is cautiously optimistic that live horse racing could return without fans as early as June.

Lawson said the City of Toronto’s COVID-19 task force conducted an inspection of Woodbine’s backstretch Sunday.

“They commented we were far ahead of many other businesses and we got a huge compliment on everything we’ve been doing,” Lawson said. “We’ve had about 600 people (in backstretch) each day for over one month.

“I think one key factor is that in starting, the additional personnel required is minimal, including for example the potential use of remote judges . . . all we really need to do is bring jockeys on and we’re already physically making construction changes to our jockeys’ room like in/out doors and separate cubicles. On the standardbred side we’re ordering trailers to have physical distancing amongst the drivers.”

And Lawson said once thoroughbred racing is cleared to begin, the precautions wouldn’t stop there.

“Among other safety protocols we have developed, we’d likely have our jockeys wear masks from the time they board the horse until they get to the starting gate,” he said. “We’ll only have two people allowed in the paddock per horse, a groom and a trainer, to help saddle the jockey up.

“There will be strict hygienic requirements in terms of washing and bleaching equipment while continuing to respect physical distancing. We’re very confident based on the experience of other jurisdictions and our own experience so far in the backstretch that we can definitely do this.”

Lawson added Woodbine continues to work closely with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario to amend the rules of racing “to allow us to proceed.”

“Things such as post parades and weights of jockeys,” he said. “They’ve been co-operative and supportive which has been terrific.”

On April 1, Woodbine Entertainment announced the Plate, scheduled for June 27, had been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While no firm rescheduled date has been established, Lawson is hopeful North America’s longest continuously run stakes race could be held either in late August or sometime in September.

“We’ll see what physical distancing guidelines are then,” he said. “We may be able to permit a limited number of spectators in late August or more likely mid-September.”

Also in question is when the $1-million Woodbine Mile turf event will be run. Lawson said Woodbine Entertainment has secured a deal with NBC Sports to broadcast the race, currently slated for Sept. 19.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4 2020.