The dormant willows in the paddock form a backdrop to a soggy, muddy day at Woodbine. Only a week ago, all this was under a foot of snow!
Saturday March 22nd marked Opening Day of Woodbine's 48th Thoroughbred season, a 167-day meet that runs until November 30. Some minor renovations were undertaken during the off-season, including new wooden panelling replacing concrete and drywall in the indoor saddling enclosure, and a new pond on the far turn to facilitate storm-water runoff from the stable
The new winner's circle under construction at the finish line. There had been a winner's circle there for the Breeders' Cup in 1996, but had been gone since then.
On the backstretch, sprinklers were installed in the barns in response to the tragic fire last August that levelled Barns 7 and 7A and claimed the lives of 32 horses. Finally, the barns themselves are being renovated, widening the shedrows and installing new wash bays. For the future, a new turf sprinting chute is being considered in order to accommodate distances of 5, 5 1/2, and 6 furlongs which currently involve a short run to the turn. This chute would extend perpendicular to the home stretch off the far turn, with fields having to negotiate an easy 90-degree left turn.
Canadian Horse of the Year for 2002, Wake at Noon, was making his first start of the year in the Briartic Stakes on opening day.
Opening day race conditions were less than ideal, with a track rendered muddy by recent rains and melting snow after an unusually harsh winter. (Turf racing does not return until late May) In the feature race, the $100,000 5 furlong Briartic Handicap, defending Canadian Horse of the Year Wake At Noon made his first start of the year against his usual nemeses Krz Ruckus,
Krz Ruckus was a mild upset winner in a muddy Briartic Stakes on opening day.
Woodbine also is gearing up for the Queen's Plate Fantasy Challenge. Similar to Churchill Downs' Road to the Roses contest, entrants choose a stable of ten horses and score points based on results and the top scorers can win prizes. The contest is free to enter at http://www.woodbineentertainment.com/fantasy/ and there are lots of nice prizes. Contest scoring will begin on March 30th, so get your stable selected now.