For horseracing action north of the border it is hard to find a better track than Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, Ontario. Woodbine has been in existence since 1956 and has often been praised for its ability to host both thoroughbred and Standardbred (harness) racing on the same day.
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Woodbine as it is known today takes its name from a track that began operating in Toronto in 1874. The Woodbine name was transferred to the new track in 1956 and the old track operated under the name Old Woodbine and later Greenwood Raceway. The Greenwood race meets were transferred to the new Woodbine in 1994 and the old track ceased operation. Since that time Woodbine has hosted all harness and thoroughbred racing events in Toronto.
The track is one of the largest in existence. It consists of three ovals. The outermost, in contrast to North American racing venues, is a turf course of 1 ½ miles. Inside the turf course is a one-mile artificial dirt surface. The innermost oval is a 7/8 mile Standardbred course. The three-oval layout maximizes the type of racing Woodbine can offer on any given day.
Like many of its North American counterparts, Woodbine has turned to the inclusion of slot machines to help subsidize racing purses. The slots area is located in the ground floor of the grandstand area.
Woodbine runs a full complement of stakes races during its thoroughbred meeting. These include:
- Queen’s Plate. A grade 1-C stakes for three-year-old Canadian-bred thoroughbreds, first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.
- Northern Dancer Turf Stakes. A turf mile-and-one-half Grade 1 stakes run in early fall as the final prep for the Canadian International.
- Breeders’ Stakes. A grade 1-C turf stakes for three-year-old Canadian-bred thoroughbreds, third leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.
- Woodbine Mile. A grade 1 thoroughbred turf stakes.
- Canadian International. a grade 1 thoroughbred turf stakes.
- P. Taylor Stakes. A grade 1 thoroughbred turf race for fillies and mares.
The racing at Woodbine is so prestigious that it has drawn the likes of Queen Elizabeth II to view the 2010 edition of the Queen’s Plate. Her Majesty also presented the trophy to the race’s winner, Big Red Mike and the horse’s connections.
The Queen’s Plate is the marquee event of the Woodbine meet. Held since 1860 it is Canada’s oldest race as well as the longest continually-running race in North America. Contested at a distance of 1 ¼ miles just like its American equal, the Kentucky Derby, the race typically features a field of 17 of Canada’s best three-year-old horses.
In 2015 Woodbine announced that it would be replacing its artificial Polytrack surface for thoroughbred racing with another artificial surface known as Tapeta. When Polytrack was first announced as a synthetic racing surface the hope was that it would help to reduce the number of thoroughbred injuries sustained in racing. Initially this appeared to be the case. Subsequent studies with the benefit of several years’ worth of data have indicated that this may not be accurate. Many tracks in the United States have removed artificial surfaces and returned to dirt but Woodbine has elected to give Tapeta a try and measure the results.
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