Fort Erie Racetrack open next week while bitter battle against Woodbine still ongoing


Published May 18, 2023 at 11:49 am

With opening day fast approaching, Fort Erie Racetrack continues to be at an impasse with Ontario giant, Woodbine Racetrack.

The official “And they’re off!” for the track’s 126th racing season is set for this coming Tuesday (May 23) with the thoroughbreds hitting the post starting at 4:30 pm.

However, the issues against Woodbine continue to fester like a saddle burr.

For the past several race seasons, Woodbine has implemented a horse shipping policy which, in the opinion of the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium’s (FELRC) board of directors, is designed to starve Fort Erie of its necessary horse supply by restricting the movement of horses between the two tracks.

According to the board, this amounts to Woodbine abusing its position as the dominant market force, which is hampering Fort Erie’s ability to run a business and a fulsome race calendar.

“Woodbine holds a near monopoly in our industry,” explained Jim Thibert, CEO of the FELRC, who noted that Ontario Racing, the provincial governing body for horse racing, has little to no powers to mitigate issues between tracks and is administered entirely though Ontario Racing Management Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Woodbine.

“Woodbine’s business practices towards Fort Erie are unfair and clearly predatorial. While this situation is particularly harmful for the continued existence of racing at Fort Erie, it is genuinely harmful for the owners, trainers, jockeys and others employed directly in racing and indirectly in services to the thoroughbred racing industry in Ontario.”

Another bone of contention is the scheduling of the Canadian Triple Crown as Fort Erie hosts the second leg, the Prince of Wales Stakes.

The largest attraction in Canadian horse racing, the Triple Crown begins with the King’s Plate at Woodbine, followed by the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie, and finally the Breeder’s Stakes back at Woodbine.

Traditionally the three races were held consecutively in June, July, then August. However, during the COVID crisis, certain restrictions necessitated moving the first jewel of the crown, the King’s Plate, to later in the summer.

This pushed Fort Erie’s signature race, the Prince of Wales Stakes, out of the summer tourism season, and into September.

With the pandemic over, Woodbine has refused to move the King’s Plate back to its regular spring date, or even a mutually planned date, forcing Fort Erie to keep the Prince of Wales Stakes in September.

On-track wagering and attendance at the Prince of Wales Stakes has taken a significant downturn since it was forced by Woodbine to move out of the summer tourism season.

“The Prince of Wales Stakes has a long tradition of being one of the biggest summertime tourist attractions in our town,” said Fort Erie councillor George McDermott.

McDermott added, “Having it after Labour Day, when the key summer tourism season is over, does not allow Fort Erie to meet its maximum potential for such a historic and esteemed event.”

The issue even landed at Queen’s Park when Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates, who also represents Fort Erie, said his local track was getting bullied and he wants the province to step in.

Gates said Woodbine has been using a government granted monopoly to do whatever they like.

“Woodbine is bullying smaller tracks and using their power within this government and the regulatory body to get away with it.  It is time this government steps up, puts and end to Woodbine’s behaviour, and truly supports horse racing across Ontario.”

The FELRC has filed a grievance with the Canadian Trade Commission in hopes of finding a resolution that benefits the entire horse racing community.

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