Woodbine Entertainment has bombarded the Ontario government with facts as to why horse racing should be allowed in the province, even during lockdowns. Now they’re going with a different battle plan.
WE and the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association of Ontario has sent a letter to Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s chief medical officer, and local Councillor Michael Ford, asking that Toronto Public Health set up an on-site ‘pop-up’ COVID-19 vaccination clinic on Woodbine’s property in north Etobicoke for the vaccination of approximately 1,000 agricultural workers — essential personnel that provide the necessary care and training of more than 1,200 horses stabled at Woodbine. Even though the Ontario government has temporarily banned horse racing in the province because of the current stay-at-home order, workers are allowed at Woodbine for the care and training of the animals.
The letter points out that agricultural workers qualify in Phase 2 of the Government of Ontario’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plan as essential frontline workers who cannot work remotely.
The letter, signed by WE CEO Jim Lawson and HBPA president Sue Leslie, stated: “As we have more than 1,000 essential agricultural personnel working on our property daily, 300 of whom live on-site in dormitories, the Woodbine stabling area is an ideal candidate for a mobile vaccination unit or pop-up vaccination clinic and should be prioritized, especially considering it also in a hot zone.
“This ‘pop-up’ vaccination clinic would provide our essential personnel with a very convenient and accessible opportunity to be vaccinated and would further safeguard our operations and community from a COVID-19 outbreak,” the letter continued. “We would be willing to provide the Government of Ontario and Toronto Public Health with any resources or assistance required to execute the vaccination clinic.”
Woodbine announced this week that, because of the 28-day stay-at-home order, the start of the 2021 thoroughbred season at the Rexdale track would be moved from April 17 to May 6, when the order is (hopefully) lifted.
“It is vitally important to our industry and the tens of thousands of people it supports to be permitted to safely operate live racing, even in a ‘Grey’ Lockdown situation, once the stay-at-home order is lifted,” Lawson and Leslie said in the letter. “By offering an on-site vaccination clinic to our agricultural personnel, in addition to our stringent COVID-19 Prevention Protocols which you have already reviewed, we hope that we would satisfy any health and safety concerns Toronto Public Health and the Government of Ontario might have and thus be permitted to safely operate live racing after the stay-at-home order is lifted.”
Horse racing people — both thoroughbred and harness — are furious that racing — which is an outdoor sport — has been given the heave ho because of the COVID-19 situation in Ontario, but golfing, and the NHL, are allowed to operate. Both tracks have an impressive record of keeping the virus at bay since the pandemic began last year. Woodbine has also made the argument that the people already at the track caring and training the horses are essentially the same people needed for racing (without spectators in the stands). That argument seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
Last year’s thoroughbred season at Woodbine started late and ended early because of the COVID-19 virus, causing severe financial hardships for the backstretch workers — most of whom live from paycheque to paycheque — as well as many others in the industry. Without racing, there is no betting. No betting, no revenue. There are fears that unless the province allows racing to resume soon, the industry may never recover and, in fact, may disappear in Ontario. Aside from employing thousands of workers, horse racing brings in millions in tax revenues to the various levels of government in the province.