A week after jockeys first expressed concerns with the Woodbine turf course, management at the Toronto track decided to cancel grass racing for the rest of its meet.
"In consideration of the ongoing poor weather conditions noted in the 14-day forecast, and to enable our loyal horse people to finalize their plans, Woodbine Entertainment announced (Nov. 17) that all remaining races scheduled for turf in the 2018 season will be shifted to the main track and run on Tapeta," a statement from the track said.
Jockeys refused to ride on the turf course Nov. 10, according to Jockeys' Benefit Association of Canada executive director Robert King Jr., and Woodbine responded by moving the day's grass races to the Tapeta main track. A day later, Woodbine ran one turf race, the jockeys objected, and the track took the rest of the grass races off again that day. Then, Nov. 14, the riders protested future turf racing ahead of the night card, the dispute led to the cancellation of the first race, and Woodbine management took all racing off the turf course from Nov. 16-18. King said the course had "frozen spots and soft spots. Horses are stumbling and having a difficult time getting over the course."
But Nov. 15, Woodbine sent out a statement that indicated it was not canceling grass racing, which was scheduled to continue through Dec. 2. That changed Saturday, as freezing weather continued in the region. Woodbine closes its meeting Dec. 16.
"Really, what it comes down to is we take a long view when we're looking at this stuff," said Jonathan Zammit, Woodbine's vice president of Thoroughbred racing operations. "It became clear, with the long-range forecast and with the materialization of winter weather, that it was time to shut down the course."
Zammit did not comment specifically about the safety or condition of the turf course for the past week, but he said the time it took to ultimately make the decision to cancel grass racing was part of a process.
"It's hard to say whether we felt it was safe or unsafe because we don't determine that until we go through those processes," Zammit said. "Until we run those procedures—it's not a subjective process. It's objective. When we get all the data, we can make a decision.
Once snow hit the ground, though, hope of racing over the turf was diminished because of the composition of the course.
"Given the nature of our turf course—it has a sand base and holds a lot of moisture—it's going to melt and soak in," Zammit said. "Maybe now it's time to call it off."
Zammit said Woodbine's relationship with the jockeys remains in good standing, and he declined to comment on King's claim that track management "coerced" the riders to race on the turf Nov. 11.
"I'd prefer not to go there," Zammit said. "Robbie said some things. They were personal, and I don't think they represent the facts. … It was disappointing the way that was portrayed, but we're going to take the high road."