04/08/2015 10:01AM

Slagle settling in for marathon meet


ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Woodbine will kick off its marathon 133-day meet Saturday, highlighted once again by the 156th running of the $1 million Queen’s Plate on July 5.

The track will run on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the meet, with Friday cards starting April 24 and Wednesday night racing beginning May 27. There also will be four holiday Monday cards May 18, Aug. 3, Sept. 7, and Oct. 12.

The 2015 meet will be the last run on the Polytrack surface that has been in place since 2006, as the track announced last month that it will switch to Tapeta in 2016. In order to facilitate the installation of the Tapeta synthetic surface in time for the 2016 season, the final four days of the 2015 meet have been moved up to Thursdays in November, with closing day set for Nov. 29.

Stuart Slagle will begin his first full season as racing secretary in 2015. Slagle, 47, was hired in October after spending the last two years as the racing secretary at Hastings Racecourse in Vancouver. He brings plenty of experience to Woodbine, having also worked in racing offices at a number of U.S. tracks since 2005, including Prairie Meadows, Sunland Park, and Colonial Downs. Slagle also has been the racing secretary at Arapahoe Park and the Downs of Albuquerque.

Slagle joined Hastings ahead of the 2013 season after four years with the Maryland Jockey Club. Slagle said the quality of Woodbine’s racing program is what made the position attractive.

“The appeal of world-class racing and to help be a part of that was definitely what made it a desired position,” he said.

While working in the racing office for the Maryland Jockey Club, one of Slagle’s responsibilities was to attract horses from other jurisdictions to increase the quality of Maryland racing. But Slagle said attracting horses to Woodbine and Hastings from other circuits can be a challenge.

“Both Hastings and Woodbine have the same barrier for hustling in the fact that you have to get someone to cross the border,” he said. “The logistics of crossing the border makes it unattractive to get some people to come up for certain races. I’m going to operate as if we’re on an island and try to make sure the hustle is internal.”

Slagle said his experience at Hastings will be an asset to him at Woodbine.

“There are similarities between Hastings and Woodbine in the sense of operating in an international environment,” he said. “The main advantage is that I’m familiar with the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency regulations, and I’m familiar with weight allowances for Canadian-breds in different categories, so there are a lot of similar rules that make it easier to operate under.”

Slagle took over as Woodbine’s racing secretary last November and spent the final month of the 2014 season meeting with horsemen and learning Ontario’s racing regulations and Woodbine’s policies. He said he’s excited for his first full season in the role.

“I’m looking forward to the start of the season,” he said. “You can only plan so much before you’re anxious to get going.”

Slagle said more than 1,500 horses are currently on the Woodbine grounds, with more expected in the coming weeks and months. Woodbine can stable approximately 2,000 horses at full capacity.

“Our goal is to be at 1,900 by June, with horses coming back from Florida and Keeneland and when the 2-year-olds start coming to the track,” he said. “We’re slightly ahead of where we were last year.”

Woodbine’s first condition book features similar conditions and purse levels from last season. Slagle said horsemen can expect that consistency to continue for the time being before he determines if any changes are needed to meet the track’s goal of increasing field size while supporting growth in Ontario racing.

“The only change is that some of the categories may be offered more or less depending on how well they go,” he said.

Woodbine’s opening-day card will feature 10 races, including the $125,000 Woodstock Stakes for 3-year-olds. First post is 1 p.m. Eastern.