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Youth Track Review: Woodbine Mohawk Park

Published: May 29, 2020 9:00 pm ET

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The USHWA Youth Membership Committee's series of monthly 2020 Racetrack Reviews keeps rolling, as more and more North American harness tracks are themselves resuming racing after precautionary COVID-19 closures.

Nicholas Barnsdale of Toronto, Ont., wrote the May Youth Racetrack Review about his favourite track, Woodbine Mohawk Park. The son of Canadian USHWA chapter president Garnet Barnsdale is a lifelong racing fan. He's a Humber College Bachelor of Journalism student who participates in the sport at many levels, from fractional racehorse ownership with TheStable.ca, to helping his USHWA chapter host a Somebeachsomewhere film fundraiser for Equine Guelph. Last year, the 19-year-old writer, handicapper and photographer was one of the students who took part in the Clyde Hirt Journalism Workshop at The Meadowlands. He is also an USHWA Youth member.

The USHWA Youth Membership Committee welcomes inquiries from young racing fans and participants who would like to review their favourite or local harness track, focusing on what makes the track a youth- and family-friendly place. We will be circulating a Racetrack Review every month of 2020. Please contact USHWA Youth Membership Committee chair Melissa Keith for additional details and/or to apply to review a racetrack this year.


Woodbine Mohawk Park: Canada’s Youth-Friendly Heart of Standardbred Racing

It's no surprise that Canada's most renowned harness track is a great place to spend an evening. Woodbine Mohawk Park has a premier racing product, but more importantly, it’s a welcoming establishment for young fans.

The Campbellville, Ont., racetrack opened its doors in 1964 and has since become Canada’s heart of Standardbred racing (especially after the closures of Woodbine and Greenwood for harness). Each year, the track hosts the North America Cup, which is by far its grandest event, the Metro Pace, Maple Leaf Trot and Canadian Pacing Derby. These special nights are remarkable, not only for the prestigious racing, but also for the entertainment value. North America Cup night is always a blast for kids and teens: One can find plenty of giveaways (including t-shirt tosses done by drivers in recent years), autograph sessions with top reinsmen, performers, and a smorgasbord of food vendors. Smaller-scale fun can be found at the other stakes races.

Mohawk’s marquee youth event, though, is “Family Fun and Fireworks Night”, usually hosted every year in May and coinciding with Victoria Day weekend. Families pack the apron for kids’ concessions, a driver meet and greet, kid zone, live music, and a consistently terrific fireworks display. In recent years, the track has doubled down on its pyrotechnics, setting off fireworks for Civic Holiday and in February. Any families with even a passing interest in racing should have the Family Fun Night circled on their calendars.

Fans can take in an exciting card of dashes on regular race days throughout the year. Anyone can take up a seat on one of the apron’s many picnic tables or lean up against the rail to watch a race, just metres away from the action. The sights, sounds and smells of Mohawk on a crisp June night are hard to beat. A hungry spectator can sate their appetite — or that of a picky son or daughter — at the trackside bar (19+), Terrace trackside buffet, Harvest Kitchen, Railside BBQ, snack bar or Tim Hortons. Mohawk breaks out other food stands for big events.

The track’s nature also allows anyone to chat up a driver upon their return to the winner’s circle — especially when pilots such as Jody Jamieson greet the crowd following their victories. If a younger race-goer is lucky (and polite), they may even be able to walk away with a whip from a winning teamster. (Take it from someone who has about 30 of them in his possession.)

One can get closer still and sit behind a racehorse with the “Wanna Drive?” program. It’s hosted whenever Mohawk is live, and people of any age can sign up. They will be paired with a licensed driver and taken the seven-eighths-mile distance of the circuit while entries for later races warm up alongside them. Sitting behind a Standardbred is exhilarating, even at jogging speed, making "Wanna Drive?" a must for anyone who has yet to experience it, especially youth who are starting to take an interest in racing.

Woodbine Mohawk Park gets an 'A' rating in their efforts to satisfy a younger audience. Their biggest events are certain to create return visitors, and everything they do on a regular basis will keep the new fans happy. Mohawk is back in action this upcoming Friday, June 5, with first post at 7 p.m. Eager railbirds will have to wait for their racing fix awhile longer though, as spectators are still prohibited from visiting the track due to COVID-19 restrictions. When they are welcomed back, live racing takes place on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays for the rest of the year as per Mohawk’s schedule. The Pepsi North America Cup is set for Aug. 29.

If you would like more info on Woodbine Mohawk Park, you can visit their website at woodbine.com/mohawk/.

(with files from USHWA and Nicholas Barnsdale)


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