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Woodbine to Experiment with Clockwise Racing in 2016

Woodbine Racecourse in TorontoIn an effort to get as much use out of its turf course as possible and to create new wrinkles it hopes its customers will find exciting, Woodbine will run approximately 25 grass races next year that will go in a clockwise direction.

The idea was developed by Woodbine Entertainment Group’s President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Lawson, who understands that turf races ordinarily produce more handle than races run on dirt or synthetic surfaces and that tracks can maximize handle by running as many races as they can on the grass.

“We have this magnificent turf course that is renowned across the world and we’ve been very successful attracting horses here to run over it and attracting horse for our stakes races,” Lawson said. “I continued to scratch my head to see if there are ways we can use it more than we do. Sometimes you’re limited to how much you can use a turf course because it tends to get chewed up, particularly on the turns. We only use the clubhouse turn when we run mile-and-a-quarter or mile-and-a-half races, which we don’t do that often. So the clubhouse turn doesn’t get chewed up much at all. When you examine ways you can use the course more, you think about putting that turn to use and the way to do that is to run clockwise. That’s what led us to do this.”

Lawson said that not only do turf races attract larger fields than main track races but even in races where the fields are not particularly big, customers have shown that they would rather bet on the grass than dirt or synthetic. (Woodbine has had a Polytrack surface since 2006. It will be replaced for the 2016 meet with a Tapeta surface).

“From a business standpoint, we, like every other racetrack, have to find ways of attracting more horses and getting bigger fields and there’s no question that turf races attract larger fields,” he said. “We get approximately 1.2 more horses per race on turf than on our synthetic track so there’s a direct correlation to higher handle with grass racing. Our statistics also clearly show that, apples to apples, people like wagering on turf more than or dirt or synthetic.”

The Woodbine team is also hoping the clockwise races will focus attention on Woodbine racing and add a bit of spice to some of the cards.

“The other aspect is this industry has to do some things that are new and exciting,” Lawson said. “We’re certainly cognizant of the fact we need to build more interest in our product. Just the fact that people are talking about this is a good thing. It’s already giving exposure to us and the industry.”

Many people in racing, whether they are horsemen or bettors, generally have a hard time with change, but at least one Woodbine trainer is all for the idea.

“You know what, why not?” said Woodbine’s leading trainer Mark Casse. “I think we have to explore new avenues and new things in this sport to get people’s attention, so, again, why not? With all assets there are liabilities. Maybe in the beginning it may hurt some betting-wise. Any time you introduce something, new bettors shy away from it, but it may also draw so much attention that a lot of people will be watching and betting on Woodbine that wouldn’t have been otherwise.”

Lawson said most of the clockwise races will be sprints, many at 5 1/2 furlongs. He said the estimate of having 25 clockwise races is based on having one a week, but said there will be more if the experiment is successful. He said none of Woodbine’s major turf stakes will be run clockwise but added that it’s possible an overnight stakes could be created, likely one that would be added to one of the big fall racing days at Woodbine that feature several rich races and tend to attract many European horses. He also said the finish line will not be moved for the clockwise races in 2016, but Woodbine will definitely look at adding a second finish line in 2017, which could create the possibility of far more clockwise races and at additional distances.

In its on-going efforts to run as many grass races as possible, Woodbine is also looking to convert the existing harness track to a seven-furlong turf course, and end harness racing at Woodbine and move all standardbred racing to Mohawk Raceway. Lawson said that reports that that would happen in 2017 were premature and several hurdles must still be cleared before the harness track can be converted.

-from Finley



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