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Lawson Discusses Racing's Return

Published: June 3, 2020 2:00 pm ET

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Woodbine Entertainment's most recent ‘Stronger Together’ interactive video segment took place this afternoon (Wednesday, June 3). During the session, Woodbine Entertainment CEO Jim Lawson discussed Woodbine Mohawk Park and Woodbine Racetrack in advance of both tracks' return to racing.

"I've said from the beginning that I hope people come out of this stronger," Lawson said during the beginning of the session. "People have been patient and we are excited to get back to racing."

Lawson said that he was proud to announce that Woodbine has signed a deal with TSN to bring Canadians live horse racing every Thursday night throughout the summer with 'Racing Night Live.'

The Woodbine CEO explained that the two-hour broadcasts will feature a mix of live Thoroughbred races from Woodbine Racetrack and Standardbred races from Woodbine Mohawk Park. "It's exciting for racing," said Lawson, who went on to explain that 'Racing Night Live' will be on TSN's main network. "We couldn't be happier... we're just thrilled."

Lawson went on to say, "We have a great appreciation for TSN to come together with us to make this work," and stated that Woodbine's management team has worked very hard and have done a great job to make the show a reality.

"Dark Horse has already been launched," said Lawson, who also stated that the collaboration with TSN "is going to be an opportunity to show the fun side of horse racing... we're going to have a differnet type of show on TSN."

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Lawson has stressed that members of the Ontario horse racing industry must maintain social distancing procedures in order for racing to return. He continued to hammer home those sentiments during the Wednesday session.

"We've come so far. Let's be smart about it and not let our guard down," stressed the Woodbine CEO. "People, please be smart, don't let your guard down, and let's not forget what has got us to this point."

Given the social distancing protocols that have been instituted at the tracks, Lawson stated that racing at Woodbine and Mohawk will look different when it returns this weekend.

"Racing's going to look quite a bit different," said Lawson, who reminded viewers that racing will proceed without spectators in attendance until current government policy changes. "There will be social distancing. Protocols have been released... we have to be cooperative and patient."

During the Stronger Together broadcast, host Jason Portuondo asked Lawson a variety of questions that had been left by some viewers. One of those questions asked what racing fans can expect to see this weekend when they tune in to watch racing from the tracks.

Lawson pointed out that there will be full fields this Friday and Saturday at Mohawk. "It's going to be great," said Lawson. "I'm excited about it.

"People aren't going to be there, but there will be a buzz. There will be big fields and a lot of buzz, even though fans won't be in attendance. I can't wait for the races to get underway."

In terms of Woodbine Racetrack, Lawson said that there will be 11 races at the suburban Toronto oval on Saturday, two of which will be on the grass.

One of the questions that was submitted asked when owners will be able to come to the track to watch their horses. Understanding that owners want to get out to Woodbine and Mohawk to see their charges, Lawson stressed that racing can't get ahead of itself right now.

"Now is not the time to change what has got us here," said Lawson, who went on to add that when restrictions do get eased, the tracks will then work with that.

Portuondo asked Lawson if there was any pressure on Woodbine, both in terms of the return of racing at the country's most high profile racing destinations, and the fact that racing is the first major sport to return to live action in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"There is and will be pressure," said Lawson. "We've reached out to government. We've told them that we won't let them down. On race day and race night, we're going to get this right. The horse racing community understands what this is all about."

According to Lawson, racing's return is also going to be a benefit for TSN.

"This is going to be a great experience for TSN," said Lawson. "This will be the first time that they will broadcast live sports through COVID, and it's going to be a good example of how to operate through COVID."

There will likely be more eyes on the sport when racing does make its return, which should result in new fans and increased handle.

"We're expecting and hoping for a good wagering weekend, in particular," said Lawson. "There are no sports out there right now, and there's a big sports wagering market out there, so the only wagering [sports gamblers] can do right now, for the most part, is wagering on horse racing when it comes to sports."

He went on to say, "I'm expecting that we're going to have a big Friday and Saturday night at Mohawk. I think we're going to have a lot of interest and we hope that it continues. We hope that we will be able to showcase it. We hope it brings racing into focus."

A question was asked in regard to the status of the Mohawk Million, to which Lawson explained that all of the June 1 sustaining payments for the stakes event were made, so it's still scheduled to be contested with a full field this fall.

At one point in the broadcast, Lawson made a quick comment that racing had to 'get away from its emphasis on wagering.' The quip raised the eye of a particular handicapper that asked for some clarification of the comment.

"We need to focus on creating revenue," said Lawson, who stated that's why Woodbine has worked so hard on Dark Horse and is pushing hard to get Historical Racing going, for example. The Woodbine CEO went on to state that horse racing "needs a rebirth," and he believes that the popularity of the horse itself must be brought back.

"I think [the love of some of the great stakes horses] is important," said Lawson, who later went on to explain that, "in order to sell this sport to a new generation, they have to appreciate the horses and the competition of the sport. They have to apprecite the jockeys, the trainers, the people behind the scenes... people need to get excited about that and the sport. The people in this sport love it because of the sport that it is, and we need to get it back to people that love the sport."

Lawson answered a mixed bag of questions, one of which was concerned the Woodbine CEO, to a degree.

A viewer stated that they had seen at least one individual in a paddock without a mask on. The viewer asked what will happen if that sort of thing occurs again. In his answer, Lawson returned to what he has been saying all along.

"We cannot make a mistep here," he said, adding that he appreciated the question, which is important. "People have been warned in the paddock and in the woodbine backstretch."

Lawson went on to say that individuals that don't adhere to the policies in place are "only going to hurt this sport" and that people that can't adhere to the rules will have to be removed.

Racing at Woodbine Mohawk Park is scheduled to get underway on Friday and Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. (EDT).

To view Friday's harness racing entries, click on the following link: Friday Entries - Woodbine Mohawk Park.

To access free, printable program pages of Mohawk’s Friday races, courtesy of TrackIT, click here.

To view Saturday's harness racing entries, click on the following link: Saturday Entries - Woodbine Mohawk Park.

To access free, printable program pages of Mohawk’s Saturday races, courtesy of TrackIT, click here.

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