By Perry Lefko
Grass racing has been suspended at Woodbine from Friday through to Sunday because the jockeys consider the course frozen and unsafe and they are not keen on racing on it for the rest of the season.
The first race of Wednesday’s card was not run because of an impasse between the jockeys and the management of Woodbine Entertainment Group about continuing to race over the turf, even though the card was scheduled only for the main track.
Turf racing was moved to the main track last Saturday because of the riders’ concerns, however, a race was run on the grass Sunday and after the jockeys deemed it unsafe the remainder of the grass races were moved to the main track.
“Enough’s enough, horses and jockeys are going to get hurt,” said Robert King, Executive Director of the Jockeys Benefit Association of Canada. “We’ve told them repeatedly that it’s dangerous.
“Horsemen are actually on our side. They didn’t like that we lost one race (Wednesday) and I don’t blame them. My apologies first and foremost to the horsemen, the gamblers, the grooms, everyone that was there. We’re doing what’s safe for everybody, for the horses and the jockeys themselves.”
WEG issued a statement saying it has an established and proud history of being one of the highest rated racetracks for safety in North America and consistently makes decisions with safety being the highest of priorities.
Based on feedback received through discussions with the jockeys Wednesday night, it decided to move this weekend’s scheduled turf races to the Tapeta surface due to the weather forecast resulting in safety concerns.
As for turf racing for the balance of the season, considering the unseasonably cold and wet weather, WEG will begin to integrate incremental monitoring procedures into its processes to further ensure the safety of the rack in advance of all remaining turf races.
“Woodbine Entertainment has a very strong relationship with our jockeys and we remain committed to following our process with safety as the top priority,” said Jonathan Zammit, Vice President of Thoroughbred Racing Operations for Woodbine Entertainment.
Turf races are scheduled to be offered through December 2 while the 133-day Thoroughbred meet continues through December 16. Woodbine is in the process of building a second inner turf course to be ready for next season and expects its horse population to expand with horsemen coming from as far away as Europe to take advantage of the late-season grass races.