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North America Cup Postponed

Published: April 14, 2020 4:58 pm ET

Last Comment: April 20, 2020 1:59 pm ET | 3 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

On Wednesday, April 15, Woodbine Entertainment CEO Jim Lawson announced that the 2020 Pepsi North America Cup has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lawson made the announcement during an afternoon edition of ‘Stronger Together,’ the ongoing digital presentation that has allowed officials with Woodbine Entertainment to communicate directly with the Ontario racing industry.

When asked by Woodbine Entertainment’s Jason Portuondo whether this year's edition of the NA Cup would be postponed or not, Lawson stated that Woodbine Mohawk Park’s annual $1-million stakes event has in fact been postponed.

“High level, yes, we will be postponing the NA Cup to a later date,” stated Lawson. The Woodbine CEO went on to explain that it is currently hard to determine a new date for the NA Cup without knowing what other tracks will be doing with their own stakes schedules.

“[Woodbine management] will be looking at how to figure that out,” Lawson said, in regard to a revised date for the 2020 NA Cup. Lawson went on to state that payments for cancelled stakes will be refunded. “We’re cognizant of it and working on it,” said Lawson, who went on to state that stakes schedules will be delayed, but that Woodbine management is currently working through it.

In speaking of the challenges that the fluidity of the COVID-19 pandemic has presented, Lawson stated, “it’s been difficult to make decisions that have a great deal of impact on people’s lives right now.” He cited dealing with the current wage subsidy program, to legislation, to dealing with the current situation with Woodbine’s employees. “It’s been a difficult time,” said Lawson, succinctly.

When Portuondo asked Lawson what it has been like dealing with the government during this time, Woodbine’s CEO couldn’t say enough about the powers that be.

“The government has been completely supportive… my hat’s off to them through this entire period,” said Lawson. “We’re fortunate to be Canadians right now… My hat’s off to the OLG – my hat’s off to them, big time. The OLG has been great, as has the Ministry of Finance, Rod Phillips, everyone… Federally, the AGCO has been great. All levels of government have stepped up for this industry, and it’s important for horsepeople to understand that – they’ve been great.”

Portuondo noted that this is not Lawson’s first time dealing with an all-encompassing racing crisis in Ontario, as he pointed to the cancellation of the Slots at Racetracks Program back in 2012/13. “Both crises were/have been stressful,” said Lawson, adding that in 2012 “it was just a daunting period for the industry.”

The Woodbine Entertainment CEO took the opportunity to explain that Woodbine brass learned quite a bit from the SARP cancellation, and that lesson is being applied to the current situation.

“We could’ve communicated with the industry better then (during the SARP cancellation),” Lawson said, frankly. “We have a better relationship with government now. They understand the industry and are supportive… We’re in a better position today… The funding agreement is in place, and it’s great that the agreement is in place – there is a light at the end of the tunnel… There was light at the end of the tunnel in the SARP crisis, but we didn’t communicate that well enough, and we’re not going to make that mistake again.”

When asked to prognosticate as to when racing will return to Woodbine and Mohawk, Lawson opted to focus on the fact that all social distancing policy from the government has to supersede racing aspirations. That being said, though, Lawson did eventually go on to state that, in early May, Woodbine Entertainment will readdress the topic of a return of live racing. He said that Woodbine will be working with a hypothetical start date for racing of somewhere in June or July.

“We’re working with the AGCO, OLG – everyone wants to get back racing,” said Lawson. “Woodbine wants to return to racing more than anyone… but we need to get through this health crisis. We have to listen to the health authorities because they’re doing a good job. We agree with the stay-at-home guidelines. I have empathy with the situation that a lot of our stakeholders are in, but we have to adhere to the rules… We moved quickly to do our part… Those (globally) that have moved quickly and respected social guidelines have come out of this crisis quicker… We feel that we’re doing our part.

“The good news is that horse racing is one of the few sports properties that can go on without spectators – that gives us an advantage in coming back quicker,” Lawson continued. “They (the races) will likely be run without spectators for the foreseeable future.” Lawson went on to say, “we’re looking at early May for, hopefully, this being behind us and talk from our Prime Minister in possibly lifting some of these procedures.” The Woodbine CEO went on to state that Woodbine “will look at this in early May and hopefully there will be good news and restrictions can be lifted… hopefully resume racing in June or July.”

The discussion with Lawson proved to be rather wide ranging and touched on all types of topics, which is understandable, seeing as though the COVID-19 pandemic has absolutely smashed all best-laid plans to pieces.

Lawson explained that Woodbine has been in discussions with the AGCO regarding the 45-day rule on qualifiers; has been working with task force on social distancing rules; discussing moving stewards offsite; discussing historical horse racing and fixed-odds wagering, and everything else under the sun.

Lawson also said that there’s no suggestion that this shutdown will affect next year’s purses, but in terms of the 2020 race dates that have been lost, they may very well be gone for good and not made up. “I would say those dates are just gone… It’ll be a shortened season… we’ve lost a number of days, quite frankly,” said Lawson. “We have to figure out the stakes program, too. (The problem is) we just don’t know what we’re dealing with right now.”

Lawson also touched on the Mohawk Million, which is scheduled for this fall at the Campbellville, Ont. oval. When asked whether there will still be a sustaining payment coming up in June, Lawson said, “I can’t comment exactly on the timing of that. As I know, it (the date for the race) will be going on as scheduled… Currently there are no plans on changing the date of the Mohawk Million.”

April 20, 2020 - 1:59 pmI am in agreement with

chris cain SAID...

I am in agreement with Patricia. Social distancing should not be an issue for the horses to return as one of the early back to work groups. And i love the idea of splitting it up 4 and 4. My fear is they will instead group horse racing with the slots, and we dont go back until the Casinos re-open.(which could be a long time)

I thought the province of Ontario was proposing a re-opening of Ontario phasing today but i didnt see anything posted. I would think Horse racing would be on the agenda as one of the early returnees, considering we were one of the late ones to close. We can all hope.

People need entertainment and its a good time to show off our product without any competition. Hopefully whoever represents our horse racing industry can convince the Ontario government a safe way for us to return back to racing.

April 16, 2020 - 2:48 pmHow about holding the NA Cup

Mike Mobley SAID...

How about holding the NA Cup eliminations on August 15 and the finals on August 22? That way, the races could still be held in warm weather and before it starts getting dark early. The only major stakes race for 3yo PC's scheduled on 8/15 is the Milstein, and there are no major stakes races on tap for them on 8/22. There are also no major stakes races for 3yo PF's, older pacing horses and mares, or older trotting mares on 8/22, and the only major race for 3yo PT's that day is The Zweig, so The Fan Hanover, The Roses Are Red, The Goodtimes, The Armbro Flight, and The Mohawk Gold Cup could all also still be held on Cup Night with minimal disruption to any other racetrack's stakes schedule.

April 15, 2020 - 5:56 pmNothing wrong with racing

Nothing wrong with racing with no fans, no casino, no cashiers, etc. Fans can bet online (HPI) and races live streamed. Grooms and trainers work together everyday, looking after the horses. Hasn't been a problem yet. Race 5 nights, 8 races, 8 horses per race. Four races at 5 pm and 4 at 7 pm. First four gone before last four start. C'mon, it can be figured out.

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