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Canadian racing: An introduction from Woodbine

Updated: Nov 8, 2023

The G1 King’s Plate is the most prestigious race in Canada for 3-year-olds. It forms the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, which also includes the Prince of Wales and the Breeders’ Stakes. Woodbine also hosts the G1 International Stakes and the G1 Woodbine Mile. Godolphin are frequent visitors to Canada, and they were winning here a couple of weeks ago. Everyone loves to see the foreign stars coming over. It’s good for the fan base, and it’s good for the sport.

Each Canadian province has its own racing jurisdiction. At Woodbine, we have around two thousand horses in training, with more based at Fort Erie Racetrack (just south of Niagara Falls) and others spread on farms around Ontario. Canada is a vast country, but if there’s a competitive horse, or a race of significance, horses will travel between the provinces.

Canada doesn’t have jump racing, and Woodbine hosts most of our biggest races. That said, there are some races out west that our guys will go for. Many of our horses also race in the United States, and crossing the border is only a matter of paperwork. From the second week of December, many horses even relocate entirely to Florida, returning towards the end of February. If they’re not heading south of the border, horses move to farms around Toronto. Many farms will start training again in January, though, so horses only get a month or so off.

I oversee the Ontario division, but my organisation – CTHS (the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society) – keeps a national office. Everyone follows the same bylaws, but they’re adapted to best suit individual provinces. Our organisation started out in 1906, and split into provincial jurisdictions about seventy years later. We represent breeder interests across the country, and we’re also in charge of organising sales.

Provinces arrange their own sales, and the Ontario division keeps a sales pavilion at Woodbine. Here, we hold a yearling sale (with between 225-250 entries) at the end of August, and a mixed sale (of around 70 horses) in mid-October. Our handle is in the C$4m range, with most of that coming from the yearling sale.

Woodbine is here thanks to businessman E.P. Taylor, who bred Northern Dancer: the first Canadian horse to win the Kentucky Derby. Northern Dancer’s progeny can be found across the world, and almost everyone has some of him in them, from Galileo to Sadler’s Wells. Northern Dancer is in Canada’s sporting hall of fame, not just our racing hall of fame, and he has helped put racing in the public consciousness here. We can have about 20,000 people at Woodbine on a big day.

Woodbine is blessed with having the main track, along with a training track, a shorter sand ring, and a large exercise field. In 1956, we were almost out in the country. Ontario has two thoroughbred tracks, while British Columbia has Hastings Park in Vancouver. Woodbine hosts 143 days racing a year, from mid-April to mid-December. So it’s for just a few months a year that we’re not busy, with our stables emptying over the winter.

Americans come here for our turf course in particular. Many, of course, were here when Woodbine hosted the Breeders’ Cup in 1996. We stage a few win-and-your-in races for the Breeders’ Cup, and I can see the silks of Moira on the wall here. She's pre-entered in the Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita this year. Moira won the Queen’s Plate last year, and finished third in the G1 E.P. Taylor Stakes a few weeks ago. Many trainers have used our top races as a set-up to go for the Breeders’ Cup, and the Europeans often come over to use our turf course before moving on to the Breeders’ Cup.


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