TORONTO, Canada – Veteran top rider Patrick Husbands and several other Caribbean riders will soon be back among the colony at prestigious Woodbine racetrack, after the Ontario government last week sanctioned the return of horse racing as part of stage one of its reopening measures.
The season here was scheduled to get underway on April 15 but was suspended due to the outbreak of COVID-19 which has caused 83 000 infections and over 6 000 deaths across the country.
In the province of Ontario specifically, there have been 25 000 confirmed cases and 2 000 deaths.
Woodbine officials have earmarked June 6 for the start of the new season which will see strict social distancing measures being enforced.
“This is great news for the sport of horse racing and the tens of thousands of people it employs throughout the province,” said Woodbine’s chief executive Jim Lawson.
“With this news, our plans to resume standardbred racing at Mohawk Park on June 5 and thoroughbred racing on June 6 at Woodbine remain on track.
“We appreciate the government’s recognition that we can operate spectator-free horse racing safely by following strict physical distancing protocols.”
He added: “I would also like to thank the entire horse racing community for their patience, understanding and commitment in following health guidelines during this time. In doing so, it has put the entire industry in the position to resume live horse racing in the coming weeks.”
Government had declared a state of emergency in March, subsequently ordering the closure of all non-essential businesses and outdoor recreational activities to mitigate against the spread of the virus.
This week, however, some retailers along with seasonal businesses and health and community service providers were allowed to reopen, with authorities also sanctioning the return of “sport competitions conducted by a recognized national or provincial sport organization”.
“This includes indoor and outdoor non-team sport competitions that can be played while maintaining physical distancing and without spectators, such as tennis, track and field and horse racing,” the Ontario government said.
The Woodbine season will run until December 13 and will feature a revised stakes programme which will see CAN $13.8 million in purses across 75 added-money races.
Husbands, a seven-time Woodbine champion, is one of several Caribbean riders who plies his trade at the western Canada oval. Last season, he finished fifth with 82 wins and nearly four million in winnings.
Fellow Barbadians Simon Husbands, Slade Callaghan, Keveh Nicholls, Juan Crawford, along with Guyana’s Sunny Singh and Jamaican Kirk Johnson, all featured in last season’s campaign.