Here are a few things to consider when planning your visit to the track!
In Ontario, there are three horse racing breeds – Thoroughbred, Standardbred and Quarter Horse.
Ajax Downs is the only track to host Quarter Horse racing.
Thoroughbred racing is held at Fort Erie Race Track and Woodbine Racetrack.
All other tracks in the province host Standardbred (Harness) racing.
Post time varies at each racetrack. Please visit the “Racing Calendar” section of the website for each track’s race dates and post times.
Most tracks feature an average of 10 races on a card per race date.
What to know about horse racing before visiting a track!
Jockeys ride thoroughbred horses on a saddle, while drivers sit in a sulky behind the standardbred horse. Unlike jockeys, harness drivers have no restrictions placed on them in terms of their weight. However, most successful drivers maintain their weight and stay in good physical shape. It takes a good deal of strength to guide a horse whether it be in the saddle or in the sulky. Jockeys are of small stature and must maintain a certain weight.
Horses racing have weight limits assigned to them by the racing officials and the jockeys and their equipment must meet these limits. For example, the Kentucky Derby’s weight limit is 126 pounds (121 for fillies) so the jockey and his/her equipment (saddle, crop, helmet, boots, etc.) must not exceed that.
Harness racing drivers select the colours for the uniform they wear when they compete. Drivers must register their choice of colours with the proper authorities and their ‘colours’ are printed in the race program. Usually the driver’s name and/or initials appear somewhere on their colours.
Some families maintain a certain colour hue but with slight variations in pattern. Examples of this are the Waples family (usually blues and yellows/gold), Gregg and Doug McNair (maroon, black and white), Herve, Sylvain and Yves Filion (blue, white, red), etc.
Jockeys do not select their own colours. Usually referred to as ‘silks’, their uniform reflects either the owner or stable of the horse they are riding. The owners register their colours and patterns with the relevant registries.
The majority of horse races in North America are conducted in a counter clockwise direction (left hand turns). However, this is not the case in the rest of the world where both clockwise and counter clockwise races are presented. There are also races run without turns, on straightaways, and over courses with hills.
The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in New York reports that racing in the US was run clockwise, like in England, until the American Revolution when that custom was changed to counter clockwise. In Ontario, Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto ran several clockwise races in 2016 in a move to garner additional attention for the sport. However, counter-clockwise racing remains the norm in Ontario.
No. For example, Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto has three different size tracks. The Standardbreds use a seven-eighths mile surface while the Thoroughbreds are raced on a one mile Tapeta (synthetic surface) or one and a half-mile Turf (grass) Course. Fort Erie Race Track has a one-mile main track and a seven-furlong turf course that is made of dirt. Ajax Downs’ is a quarter-mile surface.
Half-mile tracks in the province are located at Clinton Raceway, Dresden Raceway, Flamboro Downs, Grand River Raceway, Hanover Raceway, Leamington Raceway and The Raceway at Western Fair District.
Georgian Downs, Kawartha Downs, Rideau Carleton and Hiawatha Horse Park are all five-eighths mile tracks.
Mohawk Racetrack is the only other seven-eighths mile oval, other than Woodbine, in the province.
All racetracks provide a program which lists each race and the horses competing in them and their past performance history. Many tracks will provide these free of charge on their websites in PDF format to print off at home prior to visiting the track. Otherwise they are available for purchase at the tracks for a nominal fee.
In Quarter Horse racing and Thoroughbred racing the horses are ridden by a jockey (sometimes called a rider). In harness racing the horses are steered by a driver who sits behind the horse in a special bike called a sulky.
Quarter Horse racing is done in sprints and the name of the breed comes from the Quarter Horse's ability to cover a quarter mile distance very quickly. They are the fastest of all racehorses for a short period and are sometimes referred to as the dragsters of horse racing. Thoroughbred racing is measured in furlongs that are an eighth of a mile. The most common race distances range from six to nine furlongs.
Standardbred Horse racing primarily is conducted over a one-mile course. Some tracks will stage sprint racing (a quarter or half mile) or longer distances (a mile and a half) to show a different perspective to fans. Standardbred horses race in two gaits, pacing (where the legs on the same side of the body move together and is the more dominant gait) and trotting (where the opposite legs – right front and left rear and left front and right rear – move together).
Another type of Standardbred racing introduced in recent years in Ontario is called Racing Under Saddle, also known as RUS. These are races in which trotters are ridden in races rather than driven. In April of 2014 the Ontario Racing Commission approved rules which allow RUS races to be featured as pari-mutuel betting events rather than demonstrations. A full story explaining the history of RUS racing in Ontario may be found here.
Pacers have always been a few seconds faster than their trotting counterparts, largely due to the sureness of their gait. The fastest trotter of all time in North America is the European bred Sebastian K who toured over Pocono Downs’ five-eighths mile track in 1:49 in June of 2014.
The record for the fastest pacing mile of all time is held by Always B Miki. He paced in 1:46 at The Red Mile in October of 2016.