The 2021 Woodbine Thoroughbred Racing season got an advanced kickoff yesterday with news of Ontario entering Phase One of its reopening plan at the top of the week. While the season originally was set to start back in April and then tentatively pushed to next weekend, the racing community had been waiting with bated breath for an illusive green light from the province. Finally, with great patience and hard work, the community at Woodbine came ready to run, breaking strong and clean from the gate. While there had been many pleas from the industry to the province to be able to proceed with the season sooner on the qualification of it being an “outdoor activity” – which Horse Racing undeniably is – it hadn’t been weighted evenly with other outdoor activities that were permitted to take place back in May. Those days now are behind us and fans and horsepeople alike were delighted with an opening weekend jampacked with races and filled with eager entrants.
Despite Woodbine being able to go ahead with its lucrative season which among many new changes, sees the return of the Grade I Canadian International bumped-up from October to September, the facility still continues to prioritize safety first. Many of the safety measures implemented in the 2020 racing season still are in place like a Covid-19 questionnaire, a mandatory temperature check upon arrival and mask requirement. While select Media like myself have the great privilege of visiting the Press Box and photographing in certain areas of the track, fans and Owners alike still are waiting for clearance to be able to enjoy the races again. Hoping we soon will be there as Ontarians continues to put their best foot forward getting our vaccination rates up and our Covid-19 cases low.
It was an action-packed card yesterday with 11 races and a record opening day betting handle of $6.9 million. The betting public here and aboard continue to set their sights on Woodbine Racetrack for its showstopping racing, just as they increasingly began to take note last season.
Despite there being no stakes races on the card, Trainer Bob Tiller had a great day with two bookend scores, including the season opener with FIVE DAYS IN MAY, ridden by Daisuke Fukumoto. He nabbed another with Skye Chernetz on SIMPLE SOUVENIR, closing-out the card.
Trainer Bill Tharrenos who wintered in Florida, also took two races on the card with HIDDEN IDENTITY under Emma-Jayne Wilson and DIVINE MARTHA, ridden by Ademar Santos. The win was Santos‘ triumphant return to Canada after riding in Florida last season amidst border restrictions and uncertainties. Tharrenos tells me regrettably he came back to Canada prematurely after some success down south, in anticipation of the season here beginning sooner. This surely must be a common sentiment for other Horsepeople here who were in the U.S. this winter, where racing has been allowed to continue with less restrictions.
2020’s Sovereign Award-winning Champion Jockey Rafael Hernandez won a rich Maiden Special Weight race aboard promising Roger Attfield Trainee SPEIGHTSTOWN SHIRL, a Charles Fipke-bred and owned daughter of Breeders’ Cup winner Perfect Shirl. After falling off his mount in the 11th race, we are happy to hear he is fine, able to walk-off on his own strength. Wishing for a quick recovery!
A fitting Rainbow Selfie for Pride Month with Steve Owens Trainee JUXTAPOSE, who won under Patrick Husbands earlier on the card. How’s that for juxtaposition?
Other familiar faces around Woodbine we were so happy to see!
Looking forward to the stakes action returning at Woodbine with some super-speedy fillies and mares in the Star Shoot and Whimsical Stakes next weekend!
The 2021 Stakes Schedule at Woodbine is available to view here. The Queen’s Plate will take place August 22, 2021 this year.