Following through on an expected decision, Woodbine Entertainment CEO Jim Lawson confirmed the 2020 Queen’s Plate race – Canada’s most prestigious horse race — is postponed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision to postpone the June 27 race came less than two weeks after Woodbine announced it was postponing the start of the 2020 thoroughbred meet scheduled to open April 18. That move followed the Government of Ontario ordering the closure of all non-essential businesses through June 30.
The City of Toronto canceled all city-led, mass-participation events through that same date.
As of Thursday morning, the Province of Ontario reported 2,965 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19, with 85 deaths. Woodbine is located in the western Toronto suburb of Etobicoke.
On March 19, Woodbine suspended harness racing indefinitely at Woodbine Mohawk Park. Lawson told the Canadian Press the economic impact from the closures and postponements will directly or indirectly impact 10,000 to 15,000 jobs.
‘Every Intention Of Keeping It’
“The Queen’s Plate is the oldest, continuously run race in North America, and we have every intention of keeping it that way,” Lawson said in a statement. “Once we postponed the start of our season, it likely meant that The Queen’s Plate would also be postponed as certain races are required leading up to it so the three-year-old horses competing are ready for the longer distance.
Lawson said the race will be rescheduled as soon as officials determine when the season will actually begin.
Dating to 1860, the Queen’s Plate is a 1 ¼-mile race for 3-year-old, Canadian-foaled horses run on Woodbine’s synthetic Tapeta course. It is the opening jewel to Canada’s Triple Crown, but like its American counterparts, the Queen’s Plate offers more than just a race. The tradition-steeped event doubles as the centerpiece for a summer festival of concerts and social functions at Woodbine.
Making this particularly painful for Canadians is that the race and festival coincide with Canada Day on July 1 – a national holiday. Lawson told the Canadian Press he hopes they can bring back the festival atmosphere sometime later in the year.
“But it’s way too early to project that,” he said.
Domino Effect On Both Sides Of The Border
It’s not too early to project that Canada’s other two Triple Crown races: the $400,000 Prince of Wales Stakes (July 21 at Fort Erie) and the $400,000 Breeders Stakes (Aug. 15 at Woodbine) will also find later dates.
This will likely impact American racing as well, since many US-based jockeys make pilgrimages to Woodbine for big races. Last year, Flavien Prat became the first jockey in 21 years – or since Kent Desormeaux did it with Real Quiet and Archers Bay – to win the Kentucky Derby/Queen’s Plate double. Prat rode 65/1 shot Country House to victory in the Derby after Maximum Security was disqualified, then piloted One Bad Boy to a 3 ½-length win in the Queen’s Plate.
Queen Elizabeth II is the race patron. She last attended in 2010.
Training Deemed Essential Business
Meanwhile, training with increased safety protocols continues at Woodbine. Under the Ontario government’s Declaration of Provincial Emergency, businesses that provide for the health and welfare of animals, including stabling, are deemed essential businesses.
Those protocols include limited access to Woodbine’s backstretch, EMS workers screening and taking temperatures of every person entering the backstretch, and closure of all common areas. It also includes a mandatory midday backstretch closure for everyone and escorts by Canadian staff of any horses shipping from the US.
Officials report no cases of COVID-19 on Woodbine’s backstretch.