A long-awaited 2021 Thoroughbred season kicks off at Woodbine June 12 with an 11-race card set to begin at 1:20 p.m. ET.
With the Government of Ontario launching the first stage of its 'Roadmap To Reopen' plan allowing horse racing to resume, Woodbine will host live racing without spectators. Fans can watch and wager on all the action via HPIbet.com and the Dark Horse app, or tune in to the live stream available on Woodbine.com.
The track's Jackpot Hi-5 wager resumes Saturday with a carryover of CA$117,062.64 that dates back to Nov. 22 when the track raced. The 2020 meet ended prematurely due to a COVID-19 lockdown in Ontario, and this year's season was delayed from its scheduled April 17 opening due to COVID-19 government orders that permitted training but not racing.
"We've been frustrated, but we'll maybe never understand it, but time to look forward," Woodbine Entertainment CEO Jim Lawson told radio broadcaster Mike Richards June 10. "Everyone has been extremely positive, which has been a nice reaction to this. People are not dwelling on what happened and what could have been. People are just now excited to get going. There's a great feeling around the horse racing industry and around the province right now to get going."
Such a great talk today our friend @JJL_Sports, CEO of @WoodbineTB, with great news on the return to racing, and what it means for thousand of families. #Finally, some good news! @sauga960am @DavidBastl @WoodbineSB @WoodbineTVProd @longleysunsport @danralphcp pic.twitter.com/2QreJAy0rs— Mike Richards 🇨🇦🇮🇪 (@RawMikeRichards) June 10, 2021
Sovereign Award-winning jockey Rafael Hernandez will be busy on opening day as he looks to defend his Woodbine title after earning a meet-leading 129 victories last season. The multiple graded stakes-winning jockey is listed on nine mounts, including the Roger Attfield-trained 3-year-old filly Speightstown Shirl in the eighth race, a CA$123,200 maiden allowance over one mile of turf.
A full sister to graded stakes winner Shirl's Speight, the Charles Fipke homebred will look to break through for her first win following three consecutive runner-up efforts. Speightstown Shirl will face a field of 13 other fillies and mares that includes the debuting Ontario-bred Astrological, a Malibu Moon half sibling to 2018 Woodbine Oaks Presented by Budweiser winner Dixie Moon(by Curlin ). Emma Jayne-Wilson is listed to ride Astrological for Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse and owners Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Gary Barber.
The highly anticipated opening weekend will feature live racing on Saturday and June 13. The racing schedule will add Fridays (4:50 p.m. post time) and Thursdays (1:20 p.m. post time) as it expands to its normal schedule in the coming weeks.
This weekend's races drew well. Saturday's card attracted 120 entries and three also-eligibles, and 150 horses and two also-eligibles made their way into Sunday's 13-race program.
Some horses have arrived in Canada over the past two weeks in anticipation of a resumption of racing, including 2020 Canadian Horse of the Year Mighty Heart. The Lawrence Cordes-owned 4-year-old, winner of last year's Queen's Plate Stakes, won the Blame Stakes at Churchill Downs in his last start May 29 for trainer Josie Carroll.
Groom Siobhan Brown tweeted a video of him stepping off a horse van May 30, announcing that "Mighty Heart is back on Canadian soil."