Woodbine Barn Fire Toll: 32 Horses Died

Woodbine Entertainment reported Monday that 32 Thoroughbreds were killed in Sunday's barn fire at Woodbine Racecourse near Toronto, Ontario. The damage estimate was set at $3 million.

The horses were stabled in barns 7 and 7A at Woodbine. The fire was spotted at 2:50 a.m. EDT in barn 7 and, fueled by hay and wooden beams, quickly spread to barn 7A.

No humans were killed or seriously injured, though some suffered from smoke inhalation. The barns were nearly at capacity--126 of the 128 stalls were filled--and a groom who was sleeping in the barn at the time is credited with getting at least 50 horses out of their stalls. He received help from other grooms and security personnel.

"Our security people were here within a minute," said David Willmot, chairman and chief executive officer of Woodbine Entertainment. "And people came flooding out of the barns to help. It's unbelievable how many horses were saved."

Trainer Steve Owens lost all 14 of the horses he had in the barn, including Legal Heir, a homebred he trained for his family's Empress Stables, and Highland Legacy, another Empress runner who was Canada's champion 2-year-old colt in 2000. Legal Heir won the last race at Woodbine by 4 3/4 lengths the day before the fire.

In addition to Owens, trainers Danny O'Callaghan, Cliff Hopmans, and Earl Barnett lost horses. Trainers who shared that barn who did not suffer casualties were Stan Baresich, Eric Bauer, MacDonald Benson, and Jerry Meyer. Benson lost a horse in 1990 when the same barn burned.

"People are depressed," said owner Dr. Gordon Lickrish, whose two horses stabled with Eric Bauer escaped. "There's not a lot of joy in the air, but you have to get on with business."

Once horses were released, they were loose on the backstretch of the racetrack. Some reportedly ran onto nearby Highway 27, though none were hurt.

The total number of horses injured wasn't known as of Monday, but one report said up to 50 were hurt. A handful of horses were at the University of Guelph.

Woodbine cancelled the Sunday race card but resumed racing Monday. The cancelled races will be offered and re-drawn for a special Thursday afternoon card of racing. Thursday was originally scheduled as a dark day.

The $125,000 Seagram Cup Stakes, Sunday's feature event, has been re-scheduled for Wednesday evening. First race post-time is 6:45 p.m.