The 2018 season was a very busy and exciting year on and off the track for Woodbine Entertainment.
“Reflecting back on the year that was, it’s remarkable to think of all that was accomplished and started in 2018,” said Jim Lawson, CEO of Woodbine Entertainment. “Our efforts have positioned us well to continue to tackle our challenges head on as we remain laser-focused on our sole mandate of sustaining and growing the horse racing industry in Ontario.”
Here’s a look at the past 12 months:
Off the Track
Off the racetrack, Woodbine Entertainment made significant investment in the sport, executed its single breed strategy by moving harness racing to Mohawk Park exclusively, secured real estate opportunities that will sustain the horse racing industry for decades, continued its focus on people and culture at Woodbine Entertainment, unveiled a new logo and brand identity and so much more.
Here are a few key highlights:
• In 2018, Woodbine transitioned all Standardbred racing to Woodbine Mohawk Park for year-round harness racing. The 2019 season, which just started on January 5, will mark the first time in its history that the Standardbred meet will be held exclusively at Mohawk Park.
• To accommodate year-round racing at Mohawk Park, Woodbine invested $10 million to winterize the facilities. It has also committed another $6 million to expand the paddock to improve the experience for horsepeople while also being able to host premier harness racing events like the 2019 Breeders Crown.
• In Toronto, Woodbine invested $9 million to install a state-of-the-art, 7-furlong inner turf track that will open in Spring 2019.
• For the second consecutive year, Woodbine Entertainment was certified as a Great Place to Work®. Woodbine also hired 713 new employees, more than double from the previous year.
• Woodbine welcomed new casino operation partners at both of its racetracks. At Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, construction has started to pave the way for the full construction project that will see a casino resort developed, which will include a brand-new gaming pavilion, a concert venue and trackside hotel on 33 acres of Woodbine property.
• In 2018, Woodbine Entertainment acted on its commitment to be industry leaders to ensure the long-term viability, sustainability and growth of horse racing in Ontario. One example of that was Woodbine Entertainment undertaking the need to operate Ontario Racing Management, the execution arm of Ontario Racing, which is the independent governing body of horse racing throughout the Province. This required an investment of nearly $5 million in 2018 and will require an ongoing financial commitment and dedicated resources moving forward.
New Deals with Associations
• At the end of the 2018 Thoroughbred meet, the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association of Ontario (HBPA) and Woodbine Entertainment jointly announced a new four-year agreement in principle that includes an additional $18 million in guaranteed purses and a minimum commitment of $4 million in capital investment in Thoroughbred racing over the course of the agreement.
• That was followed by an agreement in principle between the Central Ontario Standardbred Association (COSA) and Woodbine Entertainment on a new five-year racing deal that provides an additional $15 million in purses and commits a minimum of $5 million in capital investment in Standardbred racing over the course of the agreement.
“Reaching new deals with both HBPA and COSA provides the industry, and especially breeders, with the certainty and confidence moving forward to invest in the breeding of horses in Ontario,” said Lawson. “This is particularly important to our industry as increasing local horse supply and labour remain key factors in successfully growing horse racing at Woodbine and throughout the entire industry.”
Thoroughbred Racing and Wagering
• Despite the Thoroughbred season producing a record “all-sources” handle of $533,268,900, marking a 5.8 per cent increase over the previous year’s total, home market wagering was down 3 per cent in 2018.
• The record handle was largely driven by strong growth of 9.2 per cent in the U.S. markets.
• There were 132 race cards in 2018 with one cancellation. That amounted to 1,257 races and an average field size of 8.25.
• The 2018 Thoroughbred meet was highlighted by record-breaking race days for its signature events, The Queen’s Plate, Ricoh Woodbine Mile and Pattison Canadian International.
Standardbred Racing and Wagering
• Woodbine’s 2018 Standardbred season, contested between Woodbine Racetrack and Mohawk Park, produced a steady and industry-leading “all-sources” handle of $332,208,097.41.
• The 2018 season consisted of 219 cards and 2,282 races. The average per-race handle came in at $145,577.61.
• The average field size per race was 8.7.
• Woodbine Entertainment secured a deal with the Hambletonian Society to host the $6 million (USD) Breeders Crown at Mohawk Park in 2019.
“Overall, our wagering metrics remain healthy, but we are not without our challenges,” said Lawson. “We need to continue to invest and market our product to drive wagering here at home, while seizing the opportunity we are seeing South of the border with more and more horse players wagering on Woodbine races remotely. This is a testament to the quality of our product and brand.”
Opening day for the 2019 Thoroughbred racing season, consisting of 133 race dates, is scheduled for April 20. Standardbred racing resumed on January 5 at Woodbine Mohawk Park, which will host race cards four days a week with post times set for 7:10 p.m. each Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Woodbine, picture Michael Burns Photography