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Mohawk To Host Year-Round Racing

Published: June 13, 2017 12:41 pm ET

Last Comment: June 19, 2017 2:33 pm ET | 27 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

On Tuesday, June 13, at the post position draw for the 34th edition of the Pepsi North America Cup, the Woodbine Entertainment Group announced an investment of over $10 million for Mohawk Racetrack.

The venture is intended to upgrade the facility so to be exclusively dedicated to Standardbred horse racing and capable of offering the sport year round. Currently, Mohawk operates from April to October.

The investments will be phased in over the coming years and will include extensive renovations to winterize the facilities for fans and horsepeople.

“The future is very bright for Standardbred racing and entertainment on this site,” said Jim Lawson, CEO for Woodbine Entertainment. “With the long term gaming lease in place and with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) expected to name a new gaming service provider soon, it’s a very exciting time to be a racing fan and be involved in the sport. Standardbred horsepeople are a significant part of the fabric of this community and will soon be able to race 12 months of the year here.”

Construction will begin in the fall of 2017 and is scheduled to be completed by spring 2018. Once concluded, Standardbred horses will compete exclusively in Milton after racing at Woodbine for the final time through the 2017-18 winter months.

The upgrades include winterization of the grandstand, race paddock and maintenance facilities, new glass windows across the Terrace Dining Room, VIP suites and further customer amenities. Investment in the Milton track is not limited to the construction projects and plant upgrades.

Woodbine Entertainment also unveiled new corporate branding today including a new look and new name. The company will be unifying its racetracks under one brand, Woodbine. Two breeds, one brand. The new branding will be rolled out across all Woodbine Entertainment properties, beginning with the racetrack sites, throughout 2017 and 2018. The Woodbine track will retain its name while Mohawk will become Woodbine at Mohawk Park, set to be implemented when harness racing returns to the site full time in May 2018.

“We look forward to welcoming fans to Woodbine at Mohawk Park for world-class harness racing and to experience the new entertainment uses that will become part of the many offerings at Mohawk Park,” Lawson said. “The fan experience is outstanding, with great sightlines and fan proximity to the racing action, but this investment will take it to an entirely new level.”

The property will continue to contribute positively as an entertainment destination within the surrounding Milton community, while looking to expand and diversify its offerings. As such, Woodbine will be looking at other opportunities on the site to incorporate a mix of uses, complementary to horseracing and entertainment, on the idle lands. LiveWorkLearnPlay (LWLP), Woodbine’s lead real estate development partner, has completed a first phase Highest and Best Use Study, which set the vision, programming and development direction for the property. Woodbine will be working with SWA Group, a leading landscape architecture, planning and urban design firm that has been engaged to create the master plan to guide the long-term vision for the site’s overall development across its 440 acres. SWA previously collaborated with Woodbine Entertainment on the recently completed master plan for the redevelopment of Woodbine Racetrack.

“We are committed to creating an environment that attracts top Standardbred equine athletes and community members from Milton and the surrounding areas,” said Lawson. “Woodbine Entertainment will continue to lead the way working toward sustainability for horse racing in the region for generations to come.”

The 34th edition of the $1 million Pepsi North America Cup, featuring North America’s finest three-year-old pacers, is set for this Saturday, June 17. Tickets are available at ticketmaster.com.

(WEG)

June 19, 2017 - 2:33 pmMurray Brethour, California

murray brown SAID...

Murray Brethour,
California was an entirely different situation.
The horsemen had a goose that was laying golden eggs and decided to kill it.
They chose to sue ownership and management of Los Alamitos and WON!
What they got in winning was banishment from a flourishing racetrack situated in one of the densest and most well-to-do sections of the United States.
Rather than fight with the horsemen, Los Alamitos decided to go back to their roots quarter horse racing and to stop Harness Racing.
The horsemen were forced to leave one of the most lucrative and highly populated areas of California to one with neither the population, the wealth, nor the historical background to support it.
Unfortunately, they brought it upon themselves.

June 19, 2017 - 9:40 amI don't claim to have the

murray brown SAID...

I don't claim to have the answers.
I'm someone who at one time in my life would be at a racetrack somewhere, every day, sometimes twice a day.
With the onset of age, those days are long gone.
I now only go to big race nights and baby race qualifiers in the morning.
As a fan, I hated Woodbine. I had trouble following the horses because they were so far away. More often than not, I'd be watching the races on a TV monitor.
The only reason I was there at all, was because it was a big race night. I love the ambiance of a racetrack. Equally, I loved seeing the people who I've known in the sport for over half a century. They were usually in attendance on big nights.
Mohawk is a different story. You can see the horses and drivers. You can watch the races live. There are no vast areas of emptiness that you find at Woodbine, because of it enormous size.
Is it a schlep to get out there from Toronto? Of course it is. But even factoring in the drive, I'd sooner be there than Woodbine.
The ideal of course was Greenwood. It had all the attributes and pretty much none of the negatives of its successors.
Will the move work out? I sincerely hope it does.

June 19, 2017 - 5:34 amMr. Thomas... What happened

Mr. Thomas... What happened in California when the standardbreds got kicked to the suburbs? I'm glad I'm on the back nine instead of the front nine

June 18, 2017 - 12:26 pmOnce again Will, you are

john thomas SAID...

Once again Will, you are putting words in my mouth.
I never once said moving away from Toronto is a good thing.
I said, "Woodbine is a horrible place to view harness racing"
I said I like Mohawk.

June 18, 2017 - 11:27 amWhat a great night last night

john thomas SAID...

What a great night last night as usual.
Even with a $10 charge for the special night the stands were jammed and it didn't rain.
The quality of racing was phenomenal
I Will be back next Saturday night as usual.

June 18, 2017 - 11:08 amWill You already agreed you

john thomas SAID...

Will
You already agreed you need to put seats in those seats.
Time will tell when the numbers come in after they have gone through a cycle without Woodbine.
Until then it's all speculation. You have to take risks to grow.
Doing nothing wasn't working.

June 18, 2017 - 10:52 amI think leaving the city was

I think leaving the city was an inevitable move the way the whole restructuring of the racing in the province has been going. Myself, I always liked Mohawk but don't think year round racing will be a net positive for the sport in general.
To those of you who say Mohawk is a "fan friendly" track for patrons I say that was very true when it was a 5/8 oval. Maybe somebody will consider re-configuring the track from it's present form but I doubt it. #MMGA Make Mohawk Great Again
My passion for the sport has not waned even after many years of not being directly involved however I know one thing, you do need fans in attendance, and being over an hour away from downtown TO and more than two hours for most others to travel there isn't feasible for the long term. January through March in Campbellville, add another hour or two some nights to get there, ahh no thanks. Good luck to all involved.

June 18, 2017 - 10:46 amFor all of those who look on

john thomas SAID...

For all of those who look on the bright side we can all enjoy the great harness racing Mohawk has to offer.
I love Mohawk...

June 17, 2017 - 7:04 pmLooking at your number.....

Will Yamakva SAID...

Looking at your number..... you covered purses. Now how about expenses like grandstand staff & security, track staff, maintenance, clerical staff, camera crew, production crew, property tax, power and water bills? Did the handle cover all that?

Now you see the need for people at the track? If you think moving racing further from the biggest city is a good thing, and people near Mohawk will benefit, then why aren't those people going now? This is giving them more racing to not go to.

You see this as a boost for harness, it seems more like getting harness out of the way.

If WEG had the desire to make harness a feature sport, they have tons of land and could have built a marquee track on some of the Woodbine property.

This seems like they gave up on Toronto. Glad you see this as positive but sadly this hurts the growth of the sport, no matter how you try to candy coat it. The runners, on the other hand... they score big time with a second turf course

June 17, 2017 - 10:28 amThe move to Mohawk 365 will

john thomas SAID...

The move to Mohawk 365 will not save harness racing.
I never said it will.

You make a very valid point about corporate nights from Toronto.
but...
I am sure that WEG has done their homework and knows to the number how much business both dining rooms create.

Harness does have bigger issues like publicity and image.
The only times you hear of any races going on is usually for The NA Cup or Maple Leaf Trot. The odd person does not know harness racing exists or even who the stars are.
Very little promotion at all.

June 16, 2017 - 11:04 pmWill, Totally agree. They

john thomas SAID...

Will,
Totally agree.
They have to put seats in those seats.
The WEG Woodbine stands are "basically" empty... in comparison to what they should be.
Having 500 people in the stands instead of 10,000 is basically empty in comparison.
That being said Mohawk is taking initiatives to update the facilities with the winterised enclosure.
You must agree.
"In order to move forward changes have to be done"
To do nothing at all is merely waving a white flag.
Not all choices will be popular choices.
Some fans will be lost while new ones will be made.
Woodbine grandstands are empty but it probably has more to do with it being winter time.
Mohawk has more people attend live because of 2 reasons.
Spring / summer conditions and the quality of racing.
Just because London has fuller stands doesn't mean WEG does. Apples and oranges.
On any given night at Woodbine regardless of breed there are only 500 people inside and out. So Mohawk it is for 365... Love it.
The racing side of the business on first look appears it is sustainable.
Last Friday as an example. $297,000 in purses. Total Handle: $2,118,481
Even based upon the conservative 15% takeout (more exotic bets are higher) anyone with a calculator can see $300,000 minimum was created through wagering. Enough to cover the purse.
All this dialogue because I like Mohawk!

June 16, 2017 - 4:30 pmMr Thomas, you gotta be

Will Yamakva SAID...

Mr Thomas, you gotta be realizing by now, that wagering is not going to sustain the game alone. You need to have people in the stands spending money on food and concessions and souveniers. Do you think any professional sport can survive if everyone watched at home? No. You need people in the stands.

So yes, the wheel needs to be re-invented, and relying on internet wagering is NOT the way to go. Remember this, 70%-80% of all the wagers made, goes back to us the gambler, 100% of the concessions and others I mentioned, goes to the track and in turn, to you horseman.

London has done a great job of getting people to the track, so spare me the "stands are empty" speech. That simply isn't true. This is not done with the sport in mind, this is to get out of the way of the thriving runner's business and providing them a better facility. This does not help harness at all in terms of exposure.

June 16, 2017 - 4:10 pmSorry Mr Riga if you thought

john thomas SAID...

Sorry Mr Riga if you thought I was talking about you?
"The odd Joe" is just a phrase and by no means was meant to suggest I was referring to you.
The 45 min drive ref is based upon a Saturday night drive. Leave at 6pm to get there by 6:45, grab a program and a beer and sitting by 7:00.

You stated "Had the powers that be thought it out carefully they could've very easily put combined both T'bred and S'bred racing at Woodbine"
FYI...they had been since 1994.

What my point is. Change is for the better. You need to adapt or you will eventually fade away. You need to keep up and adjust on the fly.
Woodbine may be Canada's premier Thoroughbred track. When it comes to saying Woodbine is Canada's premier harness track I would spit my beer through my nose at that.
Mohawk is a far superior track with a country atmosphere. Gorgeous in the fall.
You need handle to support the business and Woodbine pales in comparison to the handle of Mohawk.
I love harness racing but have not been to Woodbine harness in more than 15 years.
I have been to Mohawk about 5 times a year and I live in Durham. It's worth the drive.
One comment that keeps creeping up is what about the odd university student who might want to go to the races on a work night. Sure we must consider everyone but lets be honest.
How many university students go to the harness races on a weeknight.
How many people actually go to the races anymore.
Was a time where there was about 12,000 people in the stands.
On a weeknight you are lucky if there are 50 people in the stands. The rest are either at the offtrack or in front of their computers.

June 16, 2017 - 4:09 pmMr. Thomas you keep

Joe Riga SAID...

Mr. Thomas
you keep mentioning how what the "odd Joe" thinks doesn't necessarily matter. It's pretty obvious your reference is to me so let's be a little clear about something here. I have seen enough races both live and telecast in my life thus far to last me a lifetime. I have not actually been to a live race anywhere in several years so it has very little impact on me personally where the races are held. Had you read my entire post you would've noticed that I made several suggestions about how racing could be improved and track location was only part of my comments. While you like to say this is about more then me, on that fact I would agree with you because as I said I have had more then the average fill of racing. When I do speak up and lately it's been not as frequently it's because I still care somewhat about a sport I used to be passionate about. You make your point about how moving would be so great but there is not a shred of evidence that you have presented to substantiate your claim that moving year round to Mohawk would be better.
I'm an executive at a large investment firm downtown. Many time in the past our firms would have nights at Woodbine where we would sponsor races etc. It was easy enough to do because it was easily accessible and easy to get home pretty much no matter where you lived. These types of events will be much more difficult once the change is made. Some of these events often introduced new fans to the game.
While this move may make sense to the more rural crowd you are kidding yourself if you think it wont impact the city crowd. While I do agree with the fact that most wagering is done on the internet now, what really brings in new fans is a great live experience.
It also seems impractical to me from a business sense for WEG to have two tracks open when they could've had all racing at Woodbine had there been the will and foresight to do so. There is plenty of land at Woodbine which could've been used to build both a great harness and thoroughbred racetrack. This would've easily saved a lot on long term costs as only one track would have to be maintained and not two. A lot of money was spent on upgrading Woodbine to accommodate harness racing and for what? To simply shut it down now as far as harness racing goes?
Either way this move will not save harness racing as harness racing has far bigger issues then location.

June 16, 2017 - 11:22 amTo Mr. Maue & Mr Thomas; I

Joe Riga SAID...

To Mr. Maue & Mr Thomas;
I have been involved in racing as both a spectator and an owner for a very long time, more then 4 decades. I have made many drives to Mohawk, Barrie, Orangeville, Fort Erie, Blue Bonnets, Hawthorne Park, Sportsman Park, Flamborough, Greenwood and Woodbine over the years.You folks obviously missed my point. I have seen so much live racing in my life, for many years several times a week that it matters very little to me where the races are held. If I feel like going I go and if I don't I don't. My point was, that Woodbine is the a premiere track in Canada. Had the powers that be thought it out carefully they could've very easily put combined both T'bred and S'bred racing at Woodbine which could've brought in people in from the East, West, South and North.
There is very little doubt in my mind that moving racing to Mohawk full time will basically eliminate many people from the city as Mr. Yamakva has said many many times on this blog, and I happen to agree with the thought that those who do not drive (I do) and those, even if they do drive, will not go to Mohawk during a weeknight or even a Sunday night when one must work the next day. Mr Thomas may think it's a 45 minute drive to Mohawk but that would be in the summer under Ideal traffic conditions. See how may people will go there in the middle of February? I used to go to Greenwood and Woodbine year round as did many others. I think this will change all that.
Mr Thomas while you may think I am complaining and while Mr. Maue may wonder if I am happy, my comments were made with the best interests of the sport in mind.

June 16, 2017 - 9:27 amBTW... How far does the GTA

john thomas SAID...

BTW...
How far does the GTA go to?
It's massive. If you go to the most western point of the GTA it's about only about a 15 min drive to Mohawk.
The GTA goes all the way to Burlington, Oakville, Milton.
You are not losing a whole city which is ludicrous... you are expanding. Just because it's not convenient for the odd Joe doesn't mean you don't gain new fans elsewhere.
It' not about just you.
It's about everyone. The greater for the good. Whats better for most may not be better for Joe.
What's better for just Joe will eventually kill business.

June 16, 2017 - 9:11 amWill.... Considering 75% of

john thomas SAID...

Will....
Considering 75% of WEG harness betting is done via internet (WEG's figures... not mine) you are not in "your words" losing an entire city. That's ludicrous. A little on the Dramatic side.
Anytime changes are implemented there will be growing pains. Some for the better, some for the worse. WEG has done this with the sport in mind. Whats better for the greater of all. I know you understand what that means.
The handle drops off when they move from Mohawk to Woodbine and rises when it returns back to Mohawk.
Lets consider this. Have you really thought this through about people going to see live racing on a work night?
The stands are empty no matter where it is.
Fans who have to get up early in the morning for work the next day are far and few between.
To stay status quo and not make changes you will eventually go the way of the dinosaurs.
Someone on May 12,2016 on the Simcoe.com news site stated
"The wheel needs to be reinvented for harness to become anything close to relevant in today's entertainment/gambling world,” Will Yamakva said."
Oh yeah...that was you or did you forget?

June 16, 2017 - 2:11 amMr Thomas, you really think

Will Yamakva SAID...

Mr Thomas, you really think that it is better for horse racing that it is located so far from the biggest city in Canada, that there is close to zero chance young kids or young adults that have to work in the morning are going to drive an hour each way to see races and get home by midnight on a weekday? You think it better for the product that many from Toronto will never see a harness race live because no public transit will go that far?

"How about the people west of Guelph who are applauding this"......... what about the horsemen east of Scarborough that are going to have to drive an extra hour to get to Mohawk during rush hour to make post time? Let's talk about just the people west of Guelph? Are they packing the place now? No.

Did you really call the losing the biggest city in Canada as an option to lure new fans, "the odd complainer"?

June 15, 2017 - 8:51 pmI will miss the live

I will miss the live Standardbred racing at Woodbine. But, great to see Mohawk getting a makeover.

June 15, 2017 - 5:58 pmMaking people from TO and

Making people from TO and east drive their horses in the winter from Peterborough and beyond - Forget it. What a miserable move.

June 15, 2017 - 12:04 pmI don't live in Ontario so

John Carter SAID...

I don't live in Ontario so this move makes no difference to me. For the horseman racing at Mohawk it is more convenient because they don't have to truck their horses long distance, but on the other hand I don't see how it will benefit racing long term to have no harness racing in Canada's biggest city. I think long term the harness handle will suffer as a result of this move.

June 15, 2017 - 11:57 amThis is a great chance to

John Hill SAID...

This is a great chance to bring in new fans and make racing a family affair. Put in a hotel with a water park, arcade, golf course, a petting zoo, horse and buggy rides, trails to walk and bicycle ride on. In the winter you could have cross country skiing and ice skating. Not everyone wants glitz and glamour, and as standardbred racing is mostly a grassroots affair you have an instant clientele as well as those wishing to escape the rat race of the city. Offer discounts to local attractions as well a special rate for those in the industry already. If you build it they will come.

June 14, 2017 - 6:34 pmFantastic news! At the end

Danny Maue SAID...

Fantastic news! At the end of the day, SAFER for all involved too! Just wondering IF 'Joe' has ever been happy?!?

June 14, 2017 - 6:18 pmYou have to think about whats

john thomas SAID...

You have to think about whats better for the product. I love racing at Mohawk. I live in Durham. Woodbine was a horrible place for harness races. The track configuration plus winter conditions created for some of the most boring racing around.
People who live in Toronto about having to drive to Mohawk... 45 minutes from Victoria park and 401 to Mohawk. There will be the odd Joe who will complain about the drive. How about the people who are west of Guelph who are applauding this.
In other words "You can't please everyone" It's about the survival of harness racing, not the odd complainer.
See you there Saturday for the best day of the year.

June 14, 2017 - 10:56 amSo basically if you live in

Joe Riga SAID...

So basically if you live in Toronto and want to catch live harness racing too bad, you need to drive to Mohawk. Oh well guess I won't be catching too much live harness racing anymore.
Harness racing in Toronto got screwed up badly. It went from Greenwood which was a great inner city track, easily accessible, horse and trainers and drivers were easily accessible as you could line up right along the rail as the horse came out, to moving to Woodbine which was a huge mistake. You can barely see the horses from the distance. The Woodbine grandstand is a bad for live racing purposes. They should've made it a one mile track. Terrible for the fans.
The harness track at Woodbine should've been one mile like the Meadowlands, they still could've had a good thoroughbred tapeta and turf course had they designed it better. With all the land available it should've been easy to do.
They should bring back the tellers like they have at Belmont instead of machines and then they would've had a vibrant racing facility. So now they move everything to Mohawk essentially screwing the city crowd and shooting themselves further in the foot.

June 13, 2017 - 8:32 pmThis will be a positive move

Dave Aziz SAID...

This will be a positive move for every human, employees and fans, as well as every horse who hates two hour bus rides!

BUT one major change I hope to see for winter racing and it costs zip!
CHANGE the post time from 7:30 to something earlier! When it gets dark at 5pm -
7:30 is too dark, too cold and no fun! Heck it's too late now! Is there another track in N. America starting after 7:15? Most are before 6:50.

This Saturday even 6:30 is waaay too late (for 15 races.)- finished at 11:55 IF no delays!
That will keep me at home, sorry!

June 13, 2017 - 6:49 pmI love the move---- now we

I love the move---- now we have Woodbine for the thoroughbreds and Woodbine at Mohawk Park for the standardbreds. Great move by WEG. Mohawk is a better harness racing track than Woodbine anyways---- love the move.

Did I say I loved the move?


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