No butt end of a racecourse

Woodbine Outside When I was a wee lad, more years ago than I care to think about, the only Woodbine I knew of was the brand of cigarette smoked by my Grandmother.

As I grew older and more enlightened in the ways of the world and especially in the world of racing, I became aware of another Woodbine, one less damaging to your health, if not your wealth. The major North American racecourse.

When I say North American I am, of course, speaking in terms of continental North America as Woodbine is actually in Canada, or to be precise, in north west Toronto, near the airport.

If you think Kempton Park is close to Heathrow then go to Woodbine, it is located just beyond the end of one of the main runways. At one point I was sitting in the stand, between races, watching the planes taking off and it occurred to me that if a plane ever did fail to take off properly, it would probably finish up right in the middle of the stand. It is weird the strange things that pass through your mind when you have just backed a loser! Even more so when you know will be flying from said airport and in all probability the same runway, the very next day.

As you will have gathered I have recently spend a day at Woodbine and, boy, was I impressed. Our racecourses could learn a great deal by visiting this superb course.  

First of all there is the arrival. Huge tarmac car parks, providing free parking, not the boggy field encountered at far too many British courses. If you feel particularly lazy there is valet parking available for a minimal charge.

woodbine track Admission is free and they have five thoroughbred race meetings every week at this time of the year. Despite the large number of meetings the prize money on offer puts our meetings to shame. Unlike most courses on the North American circuit, Woodbine had a Polytrack surface so is comparable to our all weather courses. On the day I visited there were nine races with a prize fund equating to an average £18,000 a race, as I write this I am looking at last nights meeting at Kempton park, which had seven all weather races, with an average prize fund of £2,400 a race.

woodbine stands The stand is massive with plenty of seating both inside and out, offering uninterrupted viewing of the entire course. Inside the stand there were, literally, hundreds of televisions offering full coverage of both the racing at Woodbine and all the other tracks racing that afternoon.

Before racing there was a comprehensive one hour preview of the days racing and paddock commentary was provided before each race.

Eight of the nine races started exactly on time with the other being only a minute late off and that was with 27 minutes between races.

woodbine stalls Even more impressive was the fact that all stalls loading for every race, including 11 and 12 runner races, completed in under a minute.  

There were eighty odd runners in the nine races yet only one horse had to be assisted into the stalls by the stalls handlers, all the others walked straight in. If the Canadians can train their horses so well why can’t our trainers do likewise?

The other thing I really liked was the strict alcohol control. Alcohol could only be consumed in the bars, which all offered panoramic viewing of the racing. Sale of alcohol was also restricted to no more than two drinks a person at any one time. Needless to say there was absolutely no sign of drunkenness at all and the atmosphere was very pleasant.

One problem in this country is that too many racegoers are prepared to accept second best and poor facilities from the racecourses. As long as racegoers continue to accept second best, the courses themselves have no incentive to invest in the provision of better facilities.

If I were an astute racecourse manager I would take a trip to Woodbine to see how a race meeting is staged properly then I would come back and make sure my course at least matched what was provided, thus stealing a march on my competitors.

If you are ever in Toronto go and visit Woodbine – you will look at UK race courses in a whole new perspective afterwards.   

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