Super Saturday definitely wasn’t a lie. It was the best Saturday we’ve had all year.
While the public still is enjoying the Woodbine Racetrack‘s world-class racing online and on television, Stage III in Ontario’s reopening has signaled the green light for local media now to return to the races. I was delighted to return to the races once again, which has been my favourite pastime since I was three years old. It’s been a tough 2020, made tougher by not being able to see our friends and favourite athletes. But truly, my grievances aren’t unlike anyone else’s. I am fortunate to be healthy and glad nobody in my circle has fallen ill. I am happy to be well enough to write this post, you lucky to be well and reading along. Without health, we have nothing.
The stage is rather different this time around. Visits to the races now require at least 24 hours’ registration. The day of the visit, an online health check is to be completed prior to arrival. When arriving, our temperature is taken and our name is verified on a list of approved visitors. As of today, owners with horses racing are permitted to bring a guest who like them go through screening, but are to leave after the race. Even if they have multiple horses running on the card, they are to leave between races. Prior to this weekend media, other than TSN and their Thursday Racing Night Live broadcast, were not allowed on premises.
My temperature reads 97°F. I ask the Security Guard, what temperature exactly is deemed inadmissible. “If you are over 100°F, we will not allow you in”, she informs me. I gain a bit of wisdom and move along.
I make my way to the Trackside Apron, one of the areas we are permitted to be. The E.P. Taylor Turf Course is as beautiful and manicured as I remember. Several canopies are set-up to provide Owners, Grooms and Trainers some relief from the relentless sun. Track Announcer Robert Geller‘s crisp timbre Brit-Aussie accent can be heard throughout the speakers. It’s a site that’s fondly-familiar other than bits of weeds peeking through cracks on the pavement. At once, it is an odd view with new things situated where they weren’t before. This certainly is a far cry from the festive atmosphere we see on Queen’s Plate Day – a grandstand filled with fans in fascinators and suits, cheers erupting as the horses thunder down the stretch. Part of me is so happy to be back, but part of me also is terrified.
Like myself, others around me are super-cautious of our face coverings slipping out of place. As the humid afternoon progresses, I admit it is difficult to breathe at times. My “new normal” at home consists of daily hour-long walks to avoid putting-on an extra “Covid-20”. On my walks, I wear a face covering, stopping occasionally for groceries or something at the drug store. Other than a couple Zoom chats with friends, that’s been the extent of my human interaction. I am working at home comfortably in air conditioning, where navigating a mask is just an afterthought. Track Workers, Hotwalkers, Grooms and Trainers are required to wear these all day long. And it is the responsibility of Woodbine‘s Security and Operations staff to ensure that everyone is in compliance. The rule is enforced with great diligence. This is for our safety and understandably, there is a learning curve in our new normal. The occasional nose exposed quickly is corrected when pointed-out. Commuting to and attending the races before rarely warranted second-guessing ourselves. Our new normal now involves bringing a back-up face covering and extra sanitizer even though there are plenty of dispensers at Woodbine; we sanitize our hands obsessively; we try not to grab the bus pole or door handles; and we are concerned when someone on the bus ride to the races isn’t wearing a mask or if someone is sitting or standing too close. We see friends at the track we haven’t seen in a long time and by instinct want to give them a hug, before correcting ourselves and offering an “air hug”. All it takes is one person to be in contact with one person who has been infected.
There are no guarantees and we can only do our best to ensure we stay safe. That being said, we are grateful to be doing again what we love so much, bringing the community and fans together with our content and photos, even if on a more limited scale and from further vantage points.
BudweiserWoodbine Oaks Day was certainly the day to come back to the track with a card loaded with five of the meet’s most important stakes: the Grade II Dance Smartly; Grade III Bold Venture; Grade II King Edward; official Queen’s Plate prep race the Plate Trial; and the titular stakes which sees the best Canadian-foaled three-year-old fillies vie for $500k. Many a winner of the latter have also gone-on to beat their male counterparts in the $1-million Queen’s Plate, which traditionally is contested in July but takes an altered course amidst the Pandemic to be contested next month.
Some snaps from the day below, including a fantastic day for Woodbine‘s leading rider Rafael Hernandez (Twitter: @HernandezRafii) taking four races, three of those stakes scores. One interesting thing about U.S. border and quarantine restrictions is that we saw members of our jockey colony take all five Super Saturday stakes – a big win for the locals. We are used to seeing American-based jockeys invade and sweep.