A transitional, two-year funding agreement reached with the government of Ontario will see Woodbine reduce Thoroughbred race dates by 14.7% in 2013 but will allow the track near Toronto to offer average daily purses comparable to 2012.
Woodbine Entertainment Group announced Jan. 24 it plans to offer 133 Thoroughbred dates at Woodbine, which would be 23 fewer race days than offered last year. Last year's average purses per race date were $508,722 (U.S.) and Woodbine officials said this year's average daily purses would be comparable to that figure.
With the looming expiration of the Slots-at-Racetracks program March 31 nothing about this year's race program had been set in stone. The Jan. 24 announcement followed a two-year transitional funding agreement reached this week with the government of Ontario, and an agreement-in-principle with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. over leases for continuing slots operations at Woodbine and Mohawk racetracks.
"I am delighted that at long last, we have been able to provide our fans, industry partners, and the horsemen and women of Ontario with more clarity about our 2013 schedule," said WEG president Nick Eaves. "We will continue to work hard to achieve an industry model that will sustain and grow our industry, and this sport, for the long haul."
The Woodbine backstretch is to re-open March 1 and racing is set to return April 20. Woodbine will continue to offer the Queen's Plate Stakes and other top stakes races. The agreements will result in significant changes to WEG's operating model.
"The uncertainty around racing this year has been very difficult," said Sue Leslie, president of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. "Confirmation of a 2013 racing season and a commitment to the long-term sustainability of horse racing is critical for horsemen."
Eaves noted that while the agreements provide short-term stability, a long-term, sustainable model for WEG and the Ontario horse racing industry could only be achieved by integrating horse racing into the province's overall gaming strategy. He added that a core element of that strategy must be permanent, expanded casinos at Woodbine and Mohawk Racetracks.
Following an announcement of the deal Jan. 23, Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium chief executive officer Jim Thibert told CKTB News in Buffalo, N.Y. he expects that now a deal can be discussed for Fort Erie, home of the Prince of Wales Stakes.
The WEG agreement also ensures Standardbred racing will continue at Woodbine and Mohawk.