03/31/2006 12:00AM

No need to visit windows to place your bets


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Wireless wagering officially has arrived at Woodbine.

Originally scheduled to launch last summer but delayed while Woodbine fine-tuned its wireless network, the new technology was approved by the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency late last year.

"We tested it with a group of customers for the past four months, wagering with real dollars," said Andrew Macdonald, who spent roughly two years on the wireless wagering project and recently was promoted to vice president, marketing and customer communications, for Woodbine.

"We've been averaging about $30,000 in wagering per week. The response has generally been quite positive, particularly with customers in the dining room who can sit at their table and get all their bets in.

"Now, we've got to the comfort level to begin marketing it to all of our customers. I think it will begin picking up with the Thoroughbreds, with people who are sitting outside in the grandstand. It's one more step in the direction of ultimate convenience for the customer."

The wireless wagering format actually is quite straightforward. Users must be customers of Woodbine's HorsePlayer Interactive wagering service and can use the HPI website to place their wagers via hand-held personal computer devices or laptops with wireless capability.

"The entire Woodbine facility is a Wi-Fi network - indoors and outdoors, every public area," said Macdonald. "If you have an HPI account, you can connect with any wireless device."

Customers who do not own such devices can get a "loaner" for the day from Woodbine. Approximately 30 hand-held units, which have a battery life of about six hours, will be available each day here at the HorsePlayer Interactive center, on a first-come first-served basis.

The wireless wagering format includes several interesting features. One is "queing," the ability to enter in a series of bets and then actually place - or cancel - them prior to post time.

"It allows users to wait until the last minute," said Macdonald.

Users also can call up a record of their day's bets, check the results and pool sizes of any live or simulcast race run within the last week, and view live video-streaming of racetracks who are clients of HPI, which also include Hastings in Vancouver and Northlands Park in Edmonton.

New network for Queen's Plate

The Queen's Plate, which has been broadcast by The Score for the past two seasons, will be shown on TSN (The Sports Network) for the first time this year.

The switch figures to result in a larger audience but the wrinkle is that the show will run from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and will necessitate a late post time for the Queen's Plate, which has been pegged for approximately 6:07 p.m.

The $1 million Queen's Plate will be run on Sunday, June 25.

The Score will continue to televise "Woodbine Racing Live" on Sundays April 2 through Sept. 17 (with the exceptions of April 9 and June 25) and on Wednesday evenings May 31 through Oct. 18.

The Score's Sunday telecasts will include coverage of the June 11 Woodbine Oaks, the July 16 Prince of Wales (from Fort Erie), the July 23 Northern Dancer, the Aug. 6 Breeders', the Sept. 17 Woodbine Mile, and the Oct. 22 Canadian International and E.P. Taylor.

Commission operates under reduced budget

Earlier this week, chairman Lynda Tanaka announced that the board of the Ontario Racing Commission had approved a budget of $9.8 million for 2006-2007, a reduction of more than $2 million from the previous year.

Over the last three years, the ORC's main funding has been from licensing fees and fines, a .05 percent cut of wagering, and a regulatory levy based on purses.

Over the last year the ORC was advised that the approximately $4 million in regulatory levies, contributed in equal measure by the racetracks and horsemen's groups, would no longer be part of its funding.

The ORC also has moved its offices.

The ORC, formerly located in downtown Toronto, has moved to 10 Carlson Court, Suite 400, a location close to Woodbine. The relocation was in part due to the reduced ORC budget.

Meanwhile, the ORC has launched a website at ontarioracingcommission.ca.

Two new officials appointed

The ORC has hired a new Thoroughbred steward in Fenton Platts, who was Woodbine's paddock judge last year. Platts, brother of Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame jockey Robin Platts, replaces Ivan McHutchion, who retired last fall.

Harold Fortune, the head valet in the jockeys' room and the backup paddock judge at Fort Erie, replaces Platts as paddock judge.

Temporary bonus for Aqueduct bettors

Canadians betting into commingled Aqueduct pools will benefit from a minor break in the win pools for the next two weeks.

Aqueduct is raising its win takeout by 1 percent, effective April 1, but Canadian regulations require a 15-day waiting period before approval to change a takeout rate is granted.

As a result, win prices will be slightly higher here until the rate is changed to match Aqueduct's on April 15.