04/09/2015 10:11AM

Woodbine opens its final meet on Polytrack

Michael Burns
Woodbine kicks off its 60th season on Saturday with a 10-race card.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Woodbine’s 60th season commences Saturday with the final year of racing on a Polytrack main track, which will be replaced in December by another synthetic surface, Tapeta.

Racing will be conducted with a 1 p.m. Eastern post time every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Holiday Monday cards with the same start time are May 18, Aug. 3, Sept. 7, and Oct. 12. The Canada Day program July 1 also begins at 1 p.m.

Wednesday racing, with a 6:45 p.m. post time, begins May 27 and will be staged throughout the meet, except following a Monday card.

The highlight of the meet, the 156th running of the $1 million Queen’s Plate, is set for July 5. Among the nominees to the prestigious test for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds are Ami’s Flatter and Danzig Moon, who are under consideration for the Kentucky Derby. The quality program will be complemented by a trio of turf stakes, the Grade 2 Highlander, the Grade 2 Dance Smartly, and the Grade 3 Singspiel.

The second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes, is scheduled for July 28 on the dirt at Fort Erie. The series culminates with the $500,000 Breeders’ Stakes on turf Aug. 16 at Woodbine.

:: DRF Live: Get real-time updates and insights from DRF reporters and handicappers on Saturday

Woodbine Mile Day, topped by the $1 million Woodbine Mile, is Sept. 13. The supporting features on the spectacular card are the Grade 1 Northern Dancer Turf and the Grade 2 Canadian. All three are on the grass, and the Grade 1 Mile is an important Breeders’ Cup prep.

The $1 million Canadian International heads the popular Oct. 18 program, which includes the $500,000 E.P. Taylor. Both are Grade 1 turf stakes that attract international fields.

Last year’s Woodbine Oaks launched Lexie Lou into stardom, setting her up nicely for a memorable victory in the Queen’s Plate. This year’s $500,000 Oaks and the $150,000 Plate Trial Stakes are slated for June 14.

The 102 stakes at the meet are worth just over $20 million, and the average overnight purse distribution is projected at approximately $500,000 per card.

Closing day of the 133-day meet has been moved forward a week to Nov. 30 to make way for the main-track renovation.

“Our lengthy meet requires a safety-first surface that will endure racing and training in a variety of weather extremes – from the heat of the Queen’s Plate to the chilly marathon that is the Valedictory Stakes,” said Woodbine Entertainment Group chairman Jim Lawson. “We believe that maintaining a safe and trusted synthetic surface over the past nine years has led to better racing with larger fields and increased wagering. The installation of Tapeta will provide continuity in equaling and exceeding those metrics.”

Lawson recently replaced the outgoing Nick Eaves as the track’s president and chief operating officer on an interim basis.

Stuart Slagle, formerly with Hastings Racecourse, is Woodbine’s new racing secretary. He takes over for Steve Lym, who was promoted to director of racing.

“Stuart is well known in the industry, with a wealth of experience at tracks across North America, and I feel we’re in good hands for a strong meet,” said Lawson. “I’m very excited about the year ahead. We enjoyed a strong second half of the 2014 meet, buoyed by field size and wagering. There is already a heightened awareness of our Canadian-bred 3-year-olds, many of whom have competed at the highest level on the Kentucky Derby trail this winter, which bodes well for a high-profile and compelling Queen’s Plate.”

Only 66 horses were entered for Saturday’s 10-race card. The featured $125,000 Woodstock Stakes, a six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds, drew an excellent eight-horse field that includes four unbeaten runners.

Conquest Bigluck E, sent out by perennial leading trainer Mark Casse, could be favored off his 2-for-2 record in Kentucky. City of Vengeance and Jacks Escarpment also are unbeaten in two starts, while Hammerstein won his lone outing here at 2.

The Mike Maker-trained duo of Serious Talk and Indygo Bo ran one-two in a recent optional claimer at Turfway Park. Former New York jockey Alan Garcia, who will ride here full time this year, has the mount on Indygo Bo.

Woodbine’s new pick five wager begins on race 2. The 20-cent base bet has a 25 percent takeout.