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Hayes On Racing's Shutdown, Return

Published: May 26, 2020 10:35 am ET

Last Comment: May 28, 2020 10:40 pm ET | 1 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

John Hayes, Ontario Racing's independent chair, points to a united effort between the industry association, the Ontario government, member racetracks, industry stakeholders, racing regulators, and horsepeople, as a driving force behind the resumption of live racing in the province.

When live Standardbred racing across Ontario was suspended in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it also meant a postponement to the start of both Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse seasons across the province.

With question marks and uncertainty surrounding the 2020 racing campaigns, Ontario Racing (OR) was tasked with tackling a multitude of issues for an industry that creates approximately 45,000 jobs, including breeding, per year.

One of the first things on OR’s agenda was to engage in dialogue with the Ontario government, specifically, conversations with Minister of Finance, Rod Phillips.

“We’ve had excellent relations with the government throughout this and appreciate the support we have received from Minister Phillips and his Ministry staff,” said Hayes. “Compared to other racing jurisdictions, especially in North America, racing in Ontario has had the good fortune to have a long-term funding agreement (the historic 19-year deal that was signed in 2019) in place with the government. Nobody ever envisaged that we’d end up with a situation like this when it was signed. We are extremely fortunate to have that agreement in place.”

Ontario Racing has also been in constant contact with the OLG, AGCO, CPMA, and Racing Forensics Inc. The conversations have covered, among many topics, a purse reallocation program for the industry, restarting safety protocols, and the revamping of 2020 race schedules.

“Ontario Racing and its members have been in constant touch with those groups, down to the point of working right with the racetracks, to ensure that when we do begin racing, we will have a safe environment for the regulators, track employees and horsepeople to work in.”

Some of the discussions played a key role in the creation of a plan to address the impact of COVID-19 on horse racing in Ontario.

Directly responsible for setting an annual program of races, attracting new horse owners, implementing breed-improvement programs, growing the fan base and connecting the industry with the government and general public, OR added a COVID-19 task force to its list of roles and responsibilities after live racing was halted.

Representing all three breeds in the province, the task force was established in response to the challenges horse racing and its horsepeople faced.

Its efforts resulted in financial support, in line with existing race cancellation practices, for those associated with Quarter Horse, Standardbred and Thoroughbred horses.

“From the start, the task force has been committed to addressing the financial hardships experienced by the hardworking horsepeople of Ontario due to COVID-19,” said Katherine Curry, the executive director of Ontario Racing Management. “Each member of the task force has worked diligently and collaboratively to ensure a streamlined process for those who are eligible to receive purse reallocation program funds.”

Communication with industry participants during the race stoppage has been of paramount importance, noted Hayes.

“OR quickly grabbed the reins, and it allowed us to move forward quickly. In doing that, it also enabled us to keep everyone in the industry regularly up to date with any significant news and updates.”

Hayes has been impressed with how the industry has dealt with the complexities that have arisen from the effects of the novel coronavirus.

Racetracks have kept their respective backstretches open throughout the pandemic, limiting access to essential personnel to care for horses while adhering to strict safety measures.

Regular updates from Woodbine CEO Jim Lawson have enabled industry participants to be apprised of important developments.

Lawson also took questions through a live, online installment of the popular 'Stronger Together' series of town-hall-type informational meetings with horsepeople, media members and others.

“I have to compliment Woodbine Entertainment and their publicity group,” offered Hayes. “Horse racing was kept front and centre with Jim Lawson as the spokesman, but I thought it was an outstanding job to keep horse racing in the forefront, whether it was radio interviews or newspaper articles.”

Hayes is appreciative of the unity he’s seen, first-hand, throughout the pandemic.

“The background cooperation between OR, the OLG, horsepeople and the racetracks has been phenomenal. The industry has worked well together to get us through this. Our whole plan from day one was to keep the racing stock fit and fed. Every facet of the industry focused their resources on that. The cooperation was unbelievable. The gives and takes that go on in the racing industry… everyone was giving and I think it worked out really well.”

Hayes also praised the work of Ontario Racing staff.

“People doing work that wasn’t necessarily part of the job they were hired for – learning the ropes, and long hours spent doing an extraordinary amount of paperwork – has really been impressive.”

The return of live racing will be, for an indeterminate time, contested without spectators.

While it’s not the ideal scenario, those who make a living from horse racing are thrilled that the sport is readying to return.

“I’ll forever be thankful and grateful for the countless hours and efforts the Ontario Racing staff has put in to get us back to the track,” said Standardbred trainer Teesha Symes.

And while there certainly is excitement in the air for the resumption of live racing throughout the province, Hayes was quick to remind people that our most difficult task lies ahead.

“Throughout this entire process, it truly has been a team effort that has required a tremendous amount of work, patience and commitment from everyone. But as we resume racing and increase training throughout Ontario, our most important task is to remain committed in following physical distancing protocols. We cannot let our guard down now. We have come too far, and put in too much effort, to have our sport halted again. Let’s all do our small part to stay safe.”

(Ontario Racing)

May 28, 2020 - 10:40 pm"Stronger together" is just

Jim Brown SAID...

"Stronger together" is just how we may need to be moving forward John. We may need to utilize our space better, we have the backstretch barns at Mohawk. Getting those up and running will allow further separation from each other. If run properly, there is potential for matinee racing or Sunday racing if needed. Then we have the same potential set up at Flamboro which is closed for the summer. If there is public interference at any of the B tracks, Flamboro is an option.Operating out of backstretch barns will in essence, create larger paddocks.

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