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Fort Erie brings industry grievances against Woodbine to Canadian Trade Commission
Having reached an impasse in their attempts to resolve ongoing issues with Woodbine over horse shipping and other related problems, the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium (FELRC) has filed a grievance with the Canadian Trade Commission in hopes of finding a resolution that benefits the entire horse racing community.
For the past several race seasons, Woodbine has implemented a horse shipping policy which, in the opinion of the FELRC’s board of directors, is designed to starve Fort Erie of its necessary horse supply by restricting the movement of horses between the two tracks. According to the board, this amounts to Woodbine abusing its position as the dominant market force, which is hampering Fort Erie’s ability to run a business and a fulsome race calendar.
“Woodbine holds a near monopoly in our industry,” explained Jim Thibert, CEO of the FELRC, who noted that Ontario Racing, the provincial governing body for horse racing, has little to no powers to mitigate issues between tracks and is administered entirely though Ontario Racing Management Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Woodbine.
“Woodbine’s business practices towards Fort Erie are unfair and clearly predatorial. While this situation is particularly harmful for the continued existence of racing at Fort Erie, it is genuinely harmful for the owners, trainers, jockeys and others employed directly in racing and indirectly in services to the thoroughbred racing industry in Ontario.”
Another example of Woodbine’s refusal to collaborate in the best interest of the horse racing industry at large is their adjusted calendar for the Canadian Triple Crown. By far the largest attraction in Canadian horse racing, the Triple Crown begins with the King’s Plate at Woodbine, followed by the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie, and finally the Breeder’s Stakes back at Woodbine.
Traditionally the three races were held consecutively in June, July, then August, however, during the COVID crisis, certain restrictions necessitated moving the first jewel of the crown, the King’s Plate, to later in the summer. This pushed Fort Erie’s signature race, the Prince of Wales Stakes, out of the summer tourism season, and into September.
With the pandemic over, Woodbine has refused to move the King’s Plate back to its regular spring date, or even a mutually planned date, forcing Fort Erie to keep the Prince of Wales Stakes in September.
“The Prince of Wales Stakes has a long tradition of being one of the biggest summertime tourist attractions in our town,” said Fort Erie councillor George McDermott. “The Fort Erie Race Track was accommodating during the COVID crisis and moved their Triple Crown race down the calendar, but the pandemic is behind us now and Woodbine should be moving the King’s Plate back to June in order to let the Prince of Wales Stakes move back to July, because having it after Labour Day, when the key summer tourism season is over, does not allow Fort Erie to meet its maximum potential for such a historic and esteemed event.”
On-track wagering and attendance at the Prince of Wales Stakes has taken a significant downturn since it was forced by Woodbine to move out of the summer tourism season. Fort Erie even offered a compromise, requesting Woodbine to move the King’s Plate back by just two weeks in order to allow the Prince of Wales Stakes to land on the Labour Day long weekend. This request was blatantly ignored by Woodbine.
Further demonstration of Woodbine’s hostility is their continued practice of greatly inflating purses in lower level races compared to Fort Erie’s, especially claiming races. The use of provincial subsidies for horse racing should not be allowed especially when Woodbine is increasingly running more and more of Fort Erie’s race offerings.
Taken as a whole, Woodbine’s continued refusal to cooperate and work together for the good of the industry has left Fort Erie with little recourse but to take its grievances to the Canadian Trade Commission.