Premature ending to 2020 thoroughbred racing season costly to Woodbine Entertainment

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TORONTO — A shortened 2020 thoroughbred racing season proved very costly to Woodbine Entertainment.

The organization announced Friday the reduced campaign produced an all-sources handle of $462.042 million. That was down more than $50 million compared to 2019 ($516,189 million).

The 2020 season covered 96 race days because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Racing began June 6 instead of April 18 and ended Nov. 22 rather than Dec. 13 as Toronto was placed into a lockdown stage for the second time as part of the province’s COVID-19 response.

That put horse racing at Woodbine Racetrack on the restricted list.

The abbreviated season included 35 fewer race days — and 305 fewer races than in 2019, according to Woodbine Entertainment.

"Like many businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted our business and the entire horse racing industry in Ontario," Jim Lawson, the CEO of Woodbine Entertainment, said in a statement. "However, I am very proud of how we responded and look forward to working with all of our stakeholders as we continue to manage the ongoing impacts caused by the pandemic."

Woodbine stated the reduced '20 season, which was originally scheduled for 133 race days, was a primary contributor to a 10.5 per cent decrease in all-sources handle. The closure of Woodbine Racetrack and Woodbine Mohawk Park to the public and Woodbine Entertainment’s Champions’ Teletheatre Network were also significant contributors, it added.

“The fact that we were able to limit the decrease in handle to 10.5 per cent despite losing nearly a third of our scheduled race dates speaks to the strength of our thoroughbred racing product and our extensive efforts and focus on our wagering business in response to the pandemic,” said Lawson.

Woodbine said field size per race was 8.9, up from 8.2 in 2019.

"With the start of the season being postponed more than a month, this allowed more horses to be ready for the start of the season which resulted in increased field sizes," said Lawson. "While any growth in field size is always encouraging, it continues to be a focus for us as it is impacting our ability to maximize our wagering handle and support the purse payments."

Although fans weren't permitted to attend the 2020 Queen's Plate, the race generated the third-highest handle in its history. The 13-race card generated a total of $14.533 million including $3.495 million on the Plate, which was won by 13/1-longshot Mighty Heart.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2020.

The Canadian Press