First published November 2008
A lucrative stakes schedule rich in history has allowed Woodbine Racetrack to play host to many of the most celebrated equine athletes of the past 50 years.
Northern Dancer, arguably the most significant sire of the 20th century, completed the rare Kentucky Derby–Queen’s Plate double in front of his hometown fans in 1964. The Plate wound up being the final race of the Nearctic colt’s fabled career.
In 1973, Secretariat didn’t let a dark, dreary sky put a damper on the final chapter of his illustrious racing career. The “Big Red” machine brought new meaning to the word style as he galloped around the turf course to a decisive score in the Canadian International.
In 1996, Woodbine welcomed the racing world when it hosted the Breeders’ Cup. The successful October event was the one and only time the Cup was held outside of the United States. In the finale, the $3 million Classic, Alphabet Soup prevailed over Louis Quatorze and superstar Cigar in a battle for the ages that went right to the wire.
With each passing season, new names rise to the forefront and capture the spotlight of Canadian racing fans. Whether it’s a gritty distaffer like One For Rose, a three-time Sovereign Award winner as a champion older female or millionaire sprinters like Wake At Noon or Krz Ruckus, they arrive at Woodbine and they perform.
In early spring, the first group to take the spotlight is the three-year-old filly division. Canadian foaled fillies coverage on the $500,000 purse offered in the Woodbine Oaks, presented by Budweiser. The Oaks is the first race in the Triple Tiara Series, which was captured for the first time ever by Sealy Hill in 2007. The Bison City Stakes and the Wonder Where Stakes are both on the Woodbine calendar.
Dating back to 1959 and a horse named Don Juan, the 1¼ mile classic is the largest continuously-run stakes race in North America. The Plate is the first jewel in the Canadian Triple Crown of Racing, which has been worn several times since inauguration in 1959. After the second jewel, the Price of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie, the Triple Crown concludes at Woodbine, on the turf, in the 1½ mile Breeders’ Stakes.
Over the years, Woodbine fans had the pleasure of cheering on Triple Crown winners With Approval, Izvestia, Dance Smartly, Peteski and Wando, as each cantered into the record books with their respective Breeder’s Stakes scores.
Transformed into its current position around the outside of the main track in 1994, the grass course is 1½ miles in circumference, between 100 and 120 feet wide, giving it a distinct European flare. With 1,440-foot stretch at their disposal, it’s not uncommon to see jockeys fan out eight or nine wide in search of a clear path to glory.
A similar phenomenon has taken place on Woodbine’s one-mile main track, which was converted to a synthetic strip in August 2006. On the whole, Woodbine’s “Polytrack”, which was the second synthetic surface to open in North America, plays to all running styles and, according to many experts, has given a renaissance to the previously extinct off-the-pace winner.
One of the key differences between “Poly” and a conventional dirt surface is that Polytrack drains vertically. When it rains, the water flows through the top layer, which is made up of sand, recycled rubber and synthetic fiber, to the lower layers.
The next layer is macadam, which is gravel bonded with tar, and is porous enough to permit passage of water. The third layer, made of gravel and loose rock, channel the precipitation to a porous drainage pipe that carries it away from the racetrack.
Whereas a conventional dirt track would reach a saturation point, leaving water to collect on the surface, the Polytrack remains relatively consistent no matter how wet the conditions. As a result, more fields remain intact and horsemen don’t lose as many training days due to weather.
While the players have changed over the years and the surfaces have evolved in terms of their configuration and composition, Woodbine continues to attract racing of world-class quality.