12/03/2015 5:21PM

Woodbine enjoys strong meet at windows, on track


ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Woodbine closed its 2015 season on Sunday with a strong year-over-year increase in all-sources and average daily handle.

All-sources handle for the 133-day meet was $438,185,077, up 11.3 percent from last year’s total of $393,871,490 for the same number of days. Average daily handle was $3,294,625, compared to $2,961,440 in 2014. Woodbine recorded significant gains in wagering from the United States, which was impacted by a weakened Canadian dollar. Woodbine’s handle is reported in Canadian dollars.

“We’ve benefited from the strength of the US dollar,” said Jim Lawson, chief executive officer of Woodbine Entertainment Group, which operates the track. “Our guys do a great job at marketing our product into the United States, and that’s a huge market that we don’t have a big percentage of.”

Average starters per race during the meet was 8.22 horses, down from 8.52 horses per race in 2014. However, average starters per race in stakes increased for a second consecutive year, as an average of 7.84 horses contested the 116 Woodbine stakes races this season, up from 7.75 horses in 2014 stakes.

Eurico Da Silva won his second Woodbine riding title and first since 2010, recording 201 wins on the season, including 17 in stakes races. A Sovereign Award winner in 2010 and 2013 as outstanding jockey, Da Silva also led all Woodbine jockeys in purse earnings.

Mark Casse captured his ninth consecutive Woodbine training title and 10th overall, with 80 wins on the season. He also led all Woodbine trainers with 14 stakes wins and purse earnings of more than $6.2 million.

Sam-Son Farm led all Woodbine owners with over $2.2 million in purse earnings, while recording 26 wins for the meet, including five in stakes. Bruno Schickedanz led all Woodbine owners with 34 wins during the meet, while Ivan Dalos led all Woodbine owners with seven stakes victories.

Grade 3 Valedictory Stakes winner Melmich led all horses with six wins from eight starts on the meet, sharing that mark with Miss Victoria, who won six of her eight starts, all in the claiming ranks.
Lawson noted that Woodbine recorded strong attendance for the Queen’s Plate, and record handle for the Queen’s Plate, Woodbine Mile, and Canadian International cards.

“I think we’ve had a very good year,” said Lawson, who took over from Nick Eaves as CEO of Woodbine Entertainment Group in May. “We’ve had record handle on all of our big event days this year. We’ve worked very hard at innovative wagering. You saw the lottery-style bets on Canadian International Day. The Jackpot Hi 5 has been extremely successful. Our guaranteed pick four is something that’s going to grow, and we’re working at different angles on how to grow that.”

Woodbine will once again operate a 133-day meet in 2016, which will be the first season on Woodbine’s new Tapeta main track. According to Lawson, it will take approximately two weeks for the current Polytrack surface to be replaced with Tapeta, but temperatures will need to be above freezing to lay down the new surface.

“It’s certainly weather contingent,” he said. “It’ll take about a week to take the Polytrack up, and then approximately a week to put the new Tapeta down. In a perfect world, we’ll get some nice December weather.”

Clockwise turf races

Lawson said one additional thing fans and handicappers can expect in 2016 is more turf racing. One way that Woodbine will accomplish this is by running approximately 25 to 30 races clockwise on the turf course. Lawson said most of the clockwise races will be run at 5 1/2 furlongs, and they could be run as far as 7 1/2 furlongs.

“We get a lot of complaints about not enough turf racing,” he said. “There’s no question in my mind that turf racing attracts horses. It attracts bigger fields, which directly correlates to more wagering. There’s one wide, sweeping turn there that never gets used unless we’re running a mile and a quarter or a mile and a half, so I challenged our team to find a way to use that.”

Lawson said a clockwise trial race involving three horses and jockeys Patrick Husbands and Emma-Jayne Wilson took place in October, with positive feedback from all involved.

“The jockeys that rode that morning, Emma and Patrick, are very excited about having the opportunity to do it,” he said. “It was very positive. I was out there for the trial, and they gave me the two thumbs up and said let’s do it.”

Opening day for Woodbine’s 2016 season is scheduled for April 9.