Lawson On Year-Round Mohawk Racing

Published: April 7, 2016 02:57 pm EDT

Woodbine Entertainment Group officials let it be known last fall that the organization was considering the idea of conducting live Standardbred racing at Mohawk Racetrack year-round. The organization’s CEO, Jim Lawson, has discussed the idea this week, and has outlined some of the key commitments that would be needed in order to make it happen.

In speaking with Bill Lankhof for an article in the Toronto Sun, Lawson stated that discussion regarding such a move is still “in the early stages.”

The CEO touched on some of the changes that would have to be undertaken in order to make the big move conceivable, one of which “would include winterizing Mohawk.”

Lawson stated that Mohawk would “need a larger dining room for big events like the Breeders Crown,” which is something that was mentioned by many horsepeople when news of the discussions were reported last fall.

In discussing the potential move this week, Lawson unveiled a key aspect that WEG would need in order to make such a move feasible.

“Part of our willingness to do that (have full-time racing at Mohawk) would include having a partner at Mohawk,” Lawson was quoted as saying. “If we can have the OLG sharing property taxes and capital costs then we’d be prepared to spend the money to upgrade the facilities. We’d spend the $3 to $5 million to run harness racing at Mohawk full time.”

Lankhof’s article also touches on what would be done with the current Standardbred course at Woodbine Racetrack if racing moves to Mohawk full time. Lawson stated that WEG is considering laying down a second Woodbine turf course over the Standardbred strip if such a move comes to fruition.

“We have to find ways of attracting more horses and getting bigger fields (for Woodbine Thoroughbred racing) and there’s no question that turf races attract larger fields,” Lawson said. “We could put that second turf course at Woodbine and run six or seven turf races a day. That would be a big attraction and bring horsemen to Woodbine.”

The possibly of WEG moving all of its Standardbred product to Mohawk is certainly a polarizing one. Some view it as a positive, citing a location with closer proximity to the on-track action and easier highway access . Others feel the move would not at all be beneficial to the Standardbred industry. Dr. Glen Brown, who served on the WEG Board of Directors for nearly 25 years and acted as the Chairman of WEG's Standardbred Racing Committee, voiced his opinion on the issue when the idea was first brought to light in October of last year.

"Do we, as an industry, want to abandon exposure of our sport in the largest city in Canada, at the county's finest racetrack?" asked Brown. "What's to be gained? Maybe a little less trucking costs, but that's not really that important in the whole scheme of things."

In his March 2016 edition of The View, Trot Editor Darryl Kaplan echoed similar sentiments on the detrimental effects of losing live racing locations.

"Whether it’s losing racing in St. John’s or Edmonton or Sarnia, the undeniable result is that we will lose customers. It is a certainty," stated Kaplan. "Those parents who come to the track with their young kids on a Sunday afternoon are not going to head to a simulcast outlet - they are lost. Those retirees who bring their grandchildren to the races, and have been doing so for a decade, are not going to bet online - they are lost. Those college kids who are brought out to the local track for a bit of fun on a quiet Thursday evening, are not going to haul three hours to the closest town with a racetrack – they are lost."

(With files from the Toronto Sun)



In reply to by Will Yamakva

Actually it might help.
Totally agree with some. Woodbine is not a great place to see a Standardbred race.
During the months that Woodbine operates Standardbred, my betting goes down by 90%. Horrible sight lines.
I have spoken with others and they too do not bet Woodbine but they drool over the thought of Mohawk.
I live in Durham but venture out to Mohawk about 10 times a year. Woodbine? ZERO.
Now did Doctor Brown consider the bigger picture? I miss Greenwood because you felt like you were right on top of the action. I go to Kawartha Downs and Mohawk because of the same.
If I want to hear jets go over my head every 5 minutes I would go to Woodbine.
In summary...they lose my wagering when at Woodbine. That can't be good for the sport.
I am sure the powers that be look at things like this.
Nothing better than NA Cup night or Canadian Pacing Derby night @ Mohawk

Patrons of Woodbine are there to gamble,not see horses, which is good because they are so far away. How many people do you see sitting in the outside grandstand in the winter months. Do you think they will stop wagering on WEG races because the horses are not on the property. Toronto has been lost to live standardbred racing since Greenwood closed. Gamblers do not have to drive to Mohawk to wager on their races. As Mr Yamakva pointed out the competion for the entertainment revenue is very competitive at Woodbine so why not go where you have a better chance to increase revenue with less competition? It's a completely different atmosphere at Mohawk, where would you rather take your kids to for a family fun night, Woodbine or Mohawk. There is a large untapped market in the Mohawk area that with proper marketing and promotion would increase the fan base greatly and the gamblers at Woodbine would still gamble on the WEG product.

I would rather drive 2 hours to watch races at Mohawk then a 1/2 hour to Woodbine and see what I can see at home on my T.V. Woodbine does not have a venue that would encourage first time fans to return.The thrill of harness racing is hearing and being able to see your horses.
That is just my opinion but it could change if I could get the following information.
How much is bet ON and OFF track at both facilities ?

Dr. Brown got that right, losing Toronto would end the sport. The goal right now is to get people to the track. It is kind of out of the way at Woodbine, but at least people can still commute via uber or public transit. You ruin any shot of those people ever coming to the races should they move to Mohawk year round. You might as well enjoy only your big days luring huge crowds because you are never going to get large name concerts, as Molson Amphitheater has that market already, you are not going to have any music festivals, there are already so many around the GTA that its a pipe dream to want to have any there. Racing alone, simply wont cut it. Woodbine would naturally be increasing its slots, so why would anyone drive past that to Mohawk?

You surely do not think the 20 somethings from the largest market in Ontario are going to drive 45 minutes to see races, and really have nothing else to do other than slots or drive home after (which means they wont be sipping suds and generating revenue). This is a poor idea that really only benefits the horseman, but not the sport.

The quintessential rock and a hard place scenario. Obviously abandoning Toronto is not a good scenario. Personally, I have been attending Woodbine races since I was a teenager in the early 1980s. It is the reason I am involved in the sport as I am today, so I definitely understand Dr. Brown's point of view. Woodbine is the showplace of Canadian thoroughbred racing, this is indisputable. It is one of the greatest racing properties in North America. Unfortunately, it is not that when it comes to the standardbred product.

The races are perceived as half mile track races on a seven eighths track. When the front runner comes off the final turn they are able to open up, something that can't be done at Mohawk. This type of racing is not attractive to the betting public.

The on-track experience at Woodbine for the standardbred patron is also not something that can attract newer fans or new money into the sport. The races are too far from the grandstand. Whether it is distance to the track for the spectator, or the proximity to the paddock, which makes it too difficult to see your horse, while enjoying the beautiful facility. Obviously, Mohawk has both of these issues solved.

Mohawk is the showplace of Canadian standardbred racing, something that doesn't come without faults. The location is more remote and not in the big smoke; although, as the urban sprawl continues this will be less of an issue. Milton is one of Canada's fastest growing urban areas.

I'm not writing this because I have an answer. On the contrary, I'm as stumped as the next guy. Standardbred racing's other major jurisdictions have racing in their larger (or largest) metropolitan areas. In a perfect world the GTA would be part of solution. Unfortunately, we don't live in one of those. All I keep thinking though is how much I miss Greenwood.