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The life-size statue of Northern Dancer watches over the empty paddock, and off to the right he's actually watching the new casino under construction.
Woodbine Racetrack kicked off its 2023 racing season on Saturday with a nine-race card of sprints all contested around one turn of the Tapeta main track. Rain fell overnight and all morning but stopped in time for the first race, conducted under dark overcast skies and a daytime high temperature of 11 C (52 F). The meet is scheduled for 133 dates, with closing day set for Sunday December 17. For the first two weeks there will only be racing on weekends, and then starting May 5 the track will go to a Friday thru Sunday schedule (1:10PM first race), and then adding Thursday evenings (4:50PM) starting May 25 through to the end of the meeting. As a result, Monday thru Wednesday will always be dark. The highlight of the meet is always the King's Plate which is on Sunday August 20, followed by the Ricoh Woodbine Mile on Saturday September 16 and the Canadian International on Sunday October 8.
Silver Tunes leads in the stretch for the season opener
Left: Silver Tunes in the winner's circle. Winning jockey Amanda Vandermeersch said, "It's a great feeling any time you win and it's special to win the first race of the season. My horse [Silver Tunes], I knew she would break well, and she just kept on going. It was a big effort."
Right: Silver Tunes in the post parade as apprentice jockey Amanda Vandermeersch smiles at the photographers. The Barrington Siddo trainee improved her record to 3 wins, 3 seconds, and 2 thirds in 38 starts, earning $98,520 for owner Radcliffe Racing Stable.
The feature race on the card was Race 6, a $111,000 allowance optional claimer for older fillies and mares going 5 furlongs. Botta Swing was sent off as the 9-4 favorite in the field of 10, unraced since winning her debut in May 2022. In to challenge her included 3-1 second choice Basalt Street who won two allowance races during the winter at Fair Grounds, and 7-2 third choice Firenspice, off two second place finishes at Gulfstream Park. Firenspice was quickest away through a quarter in 21.69 before 17-2 Verdejo gained the lead on the turn. In the stretch, favorite Botta Swing swept 6 wide to lead through a half in 45.14 but Basalt Street, sixth early under Sofia Vives, came through between horses to win by 1/2 a length in 57.68. I was a head back to Verdejo third.
Left: Basalt Street with apprentice jockey Sofia Vives and trainer Kevin Attard in the winner's circle. She improved her record to 6 wins, 6 seconds, and 0 thirds in 19 starts, earning $230,863 for owners Al and Bill Ulwelling.
Right: Second place finisher and beaten favorite Botta Swing in the post parade with jockey Kazushi Kimura. The Barbara Minshall trainee improved her record to 1 win and 1 second in 2 starts, earning $61,205 for owners Hoolie Racing Stable and Bruce Lunsford.
Woodbine is undergoing a multi-year redevelopment which includes a new casino and entertainment district. Here is the new hotel under construction at the top of the stretch, with half the rooms overlooking the racetrack and infield. In the past this area had the large hospitality tent and parking lot. In the distance the new multi-level parking garage can be seen.
The Woodbine grandstand. Almost the entire building inside off to the right edge of this photo is occupied by "Casino Woodbine" which originally started as slots only, on the entire first floor but has expanded over the years. Table games and more slots are located on the second floor and high limit gaming tables are on the third floor. Eventually the gaming will be transferred to the new building, returning the grandstand to racing uses again. The main "Favourites" restaurant at the end of the grandstand (glass enclosure which juts out on the 2nd floor), has been closed since 2020 for COVID and has not reopened (other than on Queen's/King's Plate days). Instead, Woodbine has consolidated its raceday restaurant operations to the Champions Lounge and Stella Artois Terrace on the 3rd floor, and the Post Parade Room on the 4th floor.
The paddock area will eventually be redeveloped as well, after the casino and hotel are up and running. Sadly, the once-shady paddock is down to just four willow trees! The original trees planted in 1959 were replaced in 2005, but the new trees appear to be on the way out as artist drawings suggest the paddock "oval" will be rotated 90 degrees, reduced in area, and will have fewer trees.
View of the eventual main entrance to the casino. Despite no traffic allowed through there, the traffic signals are already operational! The casino will be known as "Great Canadian Casino Resort Toronto", sadly no longer acknowledging the Woodbine name nor its racing legacy as the original name "Casino Woodbine" did. Here is a view of the new gaming facility and 5000-seat entertainment venue. Gaming operator Great Canadian Entertainment (which operates 15 large-scale gaming facilities in Canada) says this will open by summer 2023.
View of the clubhouse turn from the press box. Pearson International Airport is on the horizon beyond the 7 furlong chute, hidden by light fog. The former Standardbred paddock, located between the Tapeta and turf courses, has been repurposed as a hospitality venue, used for post position draws for major stakes races, and for "social calendar" events such as the Greenwood Stakes scheduled for September 9 this year.
View of the far turn from the same position. The training tracks (1 mile dirt and 7 furlong turf) can be seen on the right behind the green-roofed barns. On clear sunny days, downtown Toronto's skyscrapers and the CN Tower (12 miles away) can be seen on the horizon at the center.
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