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The Final Harness Race at Woodbine

Driver Chris Christoforou waves goodbye to Woodbine as he wins his final race at the track with J J Mystic Storm.

Date: 04/09/2018

Woodbine Racetrack is well known as the headquarters of horse racing in Canada, since its opening in 1956. Built by industrialist E.P. Taylor to be a showcase for his powerful Windfields Farm thoroughbred breeding operation, he never intended for harness horses to race there. However, in 1994, the Ontario Jockey Club (now known as Woodbine Entertainment Group) decided to close Greenwood Racetrack on the lakeshore east of downtown Toronto and move winter harness racing to Woodbine, converting the inner turf course, made famous by Secretariat's final race, to stonedust for harness, with the now-familiar E.P. Taylor turf added to the far outside, built to attract the Breeders' Cup. Woodbine hosted world class racing from both breeds, highlighted by the Breeders' Cup World Championships, run here in 1996, and its harness counterpart the Breeders Crown, last run here in 2015. In addition Woodbine was the host for the rich Pepsi North America Cup and Metro Pace (both long-time Greenwood fixtures) until those races were moved to Mohawk in recent years as part of Mohawk's "Summer Nights" marketing campaign.

The harness track inside the main track which will be going back to turf now.
Fast forward to 2018, and Woodbine will return to how Taylor originally intended. On April 9, 2018, the final harness races at Woodbine were contested. Harness racing moves to Mohawk (renamed Woodbine Mohawk Park) in Campbellville year-round, and Woodbine's 7-furlong harness track will be converted back to turf, allowing the track to card more turf races each day. Another effect of this move is, this means that after 150 years, there will no longer be harness racing conducted in the City of Toronto. Reaction has been mixed; horsemen are generally happy with the move, as most standardbred farms are located near Mohawk thus avoiding long van drives to Woodbine to ship in on race nights, however, harness fans in Toronto now face a minimum half hour drive out to Campbellville, including during poor winter weather, in order to see live racing. Some feel this is removing the sport from the city, at a time when most major sports teams in North America have been building new arenas and stadiums in town (or even downtown) rather than out in the suburbs. It is worth noting that the town of Milton (which officially includes the village of Campbellville) is one of the fastest growing areas in Canada in population so Mohawk will serve that market well. As well, fans at Mohawk can get up close to the racing action when on the apron, while at Woodbine fans have the 100 foot wide Taylor course and the 90 foot wide Tapeta track between the apron and the harness surface.

The final winner's circle for harness at Woodbine in the snow with Parkhill Nonstop and driver-trainer Pat Hudon.
It was an unusually cold night for mid-April in Toronto, with race time temperatures right at the freezing mark with horses facing a 10MPH headwind through the stretch. Snow flurries, heavy at times, fell during the final race. The finale, the 10th race of the night, was an $18,000 trot for non-winners of 3 races (5 for fillies and mares) or $58,000 lifetime, over the standard 2-turn mile distance. A field of 9 was originally drawn but 8-1 morning line I Jasmin was scratched by the judges. Bred for Greatness, 3rd in his last 2 starts, was sent off as the lukewarm 2-1 favorite over 21-10 second choice Parkhill Nonstop, an allowance winner last out, and 4-1 Winning Lyric, 4th last out under identical allowance conditions. Driver Mario Baillargeon sent Bred for Greatness to lead first time by through fractions of 28 1/5, 58 3/5, and 1:28 while as many as 3 1/2 lengths in front of Parkhill Nonstop who sat in the pocket. Bred for Greatness held a 1/4 length lead to the 1/8 pole but Parkhill Nonstop and driver-trainer Pat Hudon, came out from the pocket and rallied by to win going away by 5 1/4 lengths in a career-best 1:57. It was another 1 1/2 lengths back to 5-1 fourth choice Give Angel Credit third. It was Parkhill Nonstop's 18th start during the meet.

Big Rich with driver Louis Philippe Roy win the final feature race at Woodbine.
The feature race was the 8th, a $34,000 Preferred Trot. Big Rich was sent off as the 9-10 favorite in the field of 6, a Preferred winner last out, over 9-5 Odds On Amethyst, 7th in that same Preferred event (due to broken equipment), and 7-2 B Yoyo, the 4th place finisher in that race. Driver Louis Philippe Roy sent Big Rich to lead through fractions of 27, 55 4/5, and 1:23 4/5 while 1 1/2 lengths aheead of Odds On Amethyst. In the stretch, Odds On Amethyst tired as Big Rich opened up by 3 1/4 lengths. B Yoyo put in a late rally but Big Rich easily held him off by 1 1/2 lengths in a career best 1:53. It was another 2 3/4 lengths back to 44-1 longest shot Cue Hall third.

Immediately before the finale, a claiming handicap for $20,000-$25,000 tags, driver Chris Christoforou behind 7-5 favorite J J Mystic Storm, was last for the first 7/8 mile, as many as 14 lengths out. But in the final 1/8, J J Mystic Storm passed the rest of the field on the far outside to win by 1/2 a length over 3-1 Kwicky Kwanzaa. This was Christoforou's final drive at Woodbine, confidently waving goodbye to the fans as J J Mystic Storm hit the line in front.

Will the standardbred paddock building, built only 10 years ago for $10 million, be re-purposed or torn down?

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