by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228
The torch has been officially passed up north. For 24 years, Woodbine Racetrack played host to harness racing, but that is no more. In a move announced last summer, the Woodbine Entertainment Group renovated Mohawk Park to the tune of $10 million and moved all Standardbred racing there. The facility will now be called Woodbine Mohawk Park and from now on, the finest pacers and trotters will ply their trade in rural Campbellville.
For some, the news was welcome. For the horsemen, it will be more convenient as many stable and train their horses there. But some say taking harness racing out of Toronto proper could hurt the sport, especially with young people who live in the metro. It’s hard enough to get young people to go to a harness track in Toronto, let alone a place that is 45 miles to the west.
Woodbine always did its best, but most of the big races were contested at Mohawk and it has been that way for years. The Pepsi North America Cup will be the signature race of the year and like in the past, it will take place on the third Saturday in June (the 16th) and carry a $1 million (CDN) purse.
The pacers certainly didn’t sizzle and tear up the track in the first race of the new era as Aspecial Presence took the $14,000 opener in 1:58.3 on Thursday’s card (April 12). Things improved in Race 2 with I C True Grit winning an $11,000 pace in 1:55.3 over the 7/8 mile track. All in all, the all-source handle for the 10-race card was $1,308,000, which was on par with what Woodbine handled on Monday night in its final card.
Woodbine Mohawk Park will race 163 days in 2018 with the final card of the year taking place on Boxing Day, December 26.
-If you live in New England, you all know that three things happen on the third Monday in April, which is called Patriots Day. First is the Boston Marathon; second, the Boston Red Sox play an 11 AM home game; and third is that Plainridge Park opens its 2018 season. Well, I’m sure the first two things are familiar, but Plainridge Park does indeed spring into action with the first of 110 days of racing. Last year, the track raced 125 days and the park requested 100 in 2018, only to be told that 110 would be the number. The normal schedule will be Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday with afternoon post times. Last year, the track hosted the inaugural—and successful—Spirit of Massachusetts Trot, but because the horsemen and the track could not reach an agreement, there will be no trot this year; a race that carried a $250,000 purse in 2017.
The track does have some nice series planned for 2018 and they are more locally suited, but the Spirit of Massachusetts Trot is a race that will be missed in 2018. Big races get attention and to me, not having it this year is a mild setback. The 5/8 mile track does offer some quality racing and 2018 should be a good year for the New England facility.
The Monday opener features 11 races with 81 horses (over 7 per race) and in this day and age of horse shortages, that isn’t bad. The feature is a $15,000 Open Pace with six entered.
-Harrah’s Philadelphia also swings into action. Their 2018 season kicked off last night (April 13) and this year will feature a series for open pacers, trotters and mare pacers. Each leg will carry a purse of at least $30,000 and as long as six legs are contested, the final will take place on September 2 at Pocono and carry with it a $100,000 purse. The series is spilt between Harrah’s and Pocono; both tracks are 5/8 mile circuits. And, as we know, the 2018 Breeders Crown comes to Pocono Downs this October.
It is the busy season with 13 tracks racing today (April 14), and as they say, there is something for everyone.