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Husbands and Caribbean riders set for action at Woodbine


Husbands and Caribbean riders set for action at Woodbine
Patrick Husbands in the saddle. (FP)

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TORONTO – Caribbean jockeys such as ace rider Patrick Husbands could soon return to the saddle at the prestigious Woodbine racetrack, after the Ontario government gave the green light for horse racing to resume in the province next month, following a deadly wave of COVID-19.

There has been no thoroughbred action at the racing oval in Toronto’s west end since a surge of the viral illness forced a government-ordered lockdown of the province last November, bringing a premature end to the season.

The 2020 racing season had also been delayed from April until June following the outbreak of the pandemic and went ahead behind closed doors.

Canada has been under severe lockdown in recent months, but the Ontario government last week identified a three-step “Roadmap to Reopening” plan because of an improvement in daily COVID-19 cases, hospitalisations and increased vaccinations.

With “live” horse racing included in the first phase of the reopening plan, Woodbine authorities said the thoroughbred season would now get started on June 18.

“On behalf of the horse racing industry and the thousands of families who depend on it, I would like to thank the Premier’s office and local health authorities for providing some much-needed clarity,” Woodbine Entertainment’s CEO, Jim Lawson said.

“While the timing is not ideal, we can now prepare for the resumption of ‘live’ racing with a degree of certainty. I would also like to acknowledge Ontario horse people for their patience and resiliency during the past several months.”

Racing will continue June 19 and 20 to highlight the opening weekend, with racing then taking place on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays going forward.

The Woodbine season traditionally opens in April, but with Canada battling a virulent wave of COVID-19, most sporting events have been postponed.

On Tuesday, however, Canada reported only 2,506 new infections, down 72 per cent from mid-April at the height of the third wave.

Ontario reported 1,095 new cases on Wednesday, while Toronto continued to record its lowest daily case rates since March.

So far, only three racetracks have been opened across Canada with Hastings in Vancouver, Century Mile in Edmonton and Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg, all opening their doors this month.

Woodbine is the biggest of them all, boasting the most lucrative purses and races like the million-dollar Queen’s Plate and Woodbine Mile.

This season, which had been carded to get started on April 17, had been expected to feature CAN $16.5 million in purses across 87 stakes, but may now be re-jigged.

Husbands, who turned 48 last weekend, is a legend at Woodbine, having won seven riding titles and eight Sovereign Awards for Canada’s Most Outstanding Jockey.

Husbands’ elder brother, Simon also plies his trade at Woodbine, along with fellow Barbadians Keveh Nicholls, Jason Hoyte and Chris Husbands, and Jamaican Kirk Johnson.