TORONTO — The $1-million Queen’s Plate will remain North America’s longest, continuously run stakes race.
Woodbine Entertainment CEO Jim Lawson announced Monday the opening leg of Canada’s Triple Crown will be run Sept. 12 at Woodbine Racetrack. The Queen’s Plate dates back to 1860 and is widely regarded as the country’s most popular and recognized horse race.
As well, the $125,000 Plate Trial and $500,000 Woodbine Oaks — two key prep races for the Queen’s Plate — will both be held Aug. 15 at Woodbine. The Oaks is Canada’s premier event for three-year-old fillies and the opening leg of the Canadian Triple Tiara.
“The main part of our thinking was we had to get the prep races in,” Lawson said. “We wanted to have Oaks and Plate Trial as lead-ins again to have the boys-versus-the-girls setup.
“A major thinking was letting the three-year-old fillies get time to run the Oaks and then set it up as a prep race for the Plate.”
The Queen’s Plate will be followed by the $1-million Woodbine Mile, a Grade 1 turf race which will be run Sept. 19 at Woodbine Racetrack. This will mark the first time ever that the Plate and Mile will run on consecutive weekends.
“NBC Sports is coming up for (Woodbine Mile),” Lawson said. ”We didn’t think it was the right thing to run the Plate and the Mile on the same day.
“They’re both big events so keep them separate.”
The 1 1/4-mile Queen’s Plate, which is run on Woodbine’s Tapeta course, is for three-year-olds foaled in Canada. It was originally scheduled to be run June 27 at Woodbine Racetrack but the race was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Woodbine Entertainment was forced to postpone the April 18 start of its ‘20 thoroughbred card because of the outbreak. Last week, Lawson divulged plans to begin live thoroughbred racing June 6 at the Toronto oval without fans.
On Thursday, the Ontario government included horse racing — again, minus spectators — in the first phase of its reopening of the province’s economy. As a result, horse racing was given the green light to begin as early as Tuesday.
That paved the way for Woodbine to adhere to its plan of resuming harness racing June 5 at Woodbine Mohawk Park and kick-starting the thoroughbred campaign June 6.
While thoroughbred racing at Woodbine will be held without fans, the hope is by September restrictions will have been eased to the point where some spectators could be allowed to attend the Plate.
And that’s important to Woodbine Entertainment because the Plate is much more than just a horse race. Woodbine stages a festival around the event that includes outdoor concerts and a variety of social functions.
“We’re going to be subject to city of Toronto and government health guidelines,” Lawson said. “But I think it’s reasonable to think in the fall there might be spectators.”
The Queen’s Plate will be held after the start of the American Triple Crown. The Kentucky Derby, which is traditionally run on the first Saturday in May, will now go Sept. 5.
“We didn’t want the Plate on Labour Day weekend, we did not want it on the same day as the Kentucky Derby,” Lawson said. “We wanted it on a Saturday and already had the Woodbine Mile on Sept. 19 … so Sept. 12 was the perfect date for us.”
Lawson said Woodbine Entertainment is also expected to divulge its revised stakes schedule sometime this week.
With the 1 1/4-mile Queen’s Plate starting later than normal, so too will the two remaining legs of Canada’s Triple Crown.
The $400,000 Prince of Wales Stakes, a 1 3/16-mile dirt race, is expected to be held Sept. 29 at Fort Erie Racetrack. The $400,000 Breeders’ Stakes, a 1 1/2-mile turf race, will go Oct. 24 at Woodbine.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2020.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press