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Race Day FAQs

Race Day FAQs

Before the Track

Here are a few things to consider when planning your visit to the track!

Is there an admission cost? What about parking?

Admission and parking is free at all Ontario racetracks. 
On some feature race days, admission may be charged.  Please check with the track.
Can children attend the races?

Yes!  All Ontario tracks are family friendly.  Many tracks offer children’s activities and special family events.  Please note, you must be 19 years of age or older to enter the OLG Slots area and you must be over the age of 18 to place a wager.
Are pets allowed at the racetrack?
Dogs and pets are not allowed at the racetrack with exception of certified service animals.
What type of horse racing will I see?

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.

What time do the races start?

Post time varies at each racetrack.  Please visit the “Racing Calendar” section of the website for each track’s race dates and post times.

How many races are there?

Most tracks feature an average of 10 races on a card per race date.

Where do I purchase a racing program?
You can purchase a race program at each track and at any off-track location.  Many Ontario racetracks offer free programs on their websites that you can download.
How much does it cost for a racing program?

Generally a racing program costs $2.50-3.00.  This may vary due to race event and type of race program.
What types of food and beverage are available?

 All Ontario tracks feature snack bars or food and beverage areas.  Most tracks have a casual dining or a full service restaurant that overlooks the racetrack.  Please check with the track as not all restaurants are open every day of racing.  Reservations are recommended.
Is the racetrack licensed to serve alcoholic beverages?
Yes, all Ontario racetracks are licensed.  You must be 19 years of age to be served alcoholic beverages.
Can you visit and touch the race horses?

All Ontario racetracks have an outside tarmac area where you can get up close and watch all the horse racing action.  For security and safety reasons the race track has a fence around its perimeter, touching the horses is not permitted.  The race paddock (area where the horses are prepared prior to racing) is a restricted area.  Many racetracks offer paddock tours.  Please contact the racetrack you wish to visit for information regarding race paddock tours.
Can I take photographs at the track?
Yes – visitors are welcome to take photographs and use camcorders in the general public racetrack areas.  Please refrain from using a flash near the horses.  Taking pictures of customers is not permitted.

At the Track

What to know about horse racing before visiting a track!

What are the differences between jockeys and drivers?

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.

Are all horse races run in a counter clockwise direction?

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.

How many types of horse racing are available to watch in ontario?
Quarter Horse racing is featured at Ajax Downs in Ajax, Ontario.
Thoroughbred racing takes place at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto and Fort Erie Racetrack in Fort Erie.
Standardbred (sometimes known as harness) racing may be enjoyed at a number of tracks throughout the province as follows:
  • Clinton, Ontario - Clinton Raceway
  • Dresden, Ontario - Dresden Raceway
  • Dundas, Ontario – Flamboro Downs
  • Elora, Ontario - Grand River Raceway
  • Hanover, Ontario - Hanover Raceway
  • Innisfil, Ontario – Georgian Downs
  • Leamington, Ontario - Leamington Raceway
  • London, Ontario – The Raceway At Western Fair District
  • Milton, Ontario – Mohawk Racetrack
  • Ottawa, Ontario - Rideau Carleton Raceway
  • Peterborough, Ontario – Kawartha Downs
  • Sarnia, Ontario - Hiawatha Horse Park
  • Toronto, Ontario – Woodbine Racetrack
Are all racetracks the same size?

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.

Which tracks are the fastest?
Horses race fastest on a straightaway which is one of the reasons why Quarter Horse racing is so swift as the majority of their races do not have turns. The more turns the horses have to negotiate, the slower the race. Half-mile tracks require the horses to race through four turns making it the slowest of the tracks. The advantage to a half-mile track however, is that because of its configuration, it allows fans a better view of the entire race.
How do I know what horses are racing?

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.

What is the difference between the horses themselves?
Quarter Horses are related closely to Thoroughbreds but tend to be a fairly blocky, sturdy and more muscular horse while a Thoroughbred is more refined. Quarter Horses quite often are used in rodeos and in Western events. A Standardbred horse falls in between the two. They are not as refined as Thoroughbreds but not as blocky as a quarter horse.
In terms of colours, Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds are primarily bay (light brown), brown, black, chestnut (various shades of red), grey (also called roan).
Quarter Horses have 17 recognized colours which include some of the ones noted above and several others. 
Which is faster in harness racing? A pacer or a trotter?

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.

What is the difference between the three types of racing?

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.

Why do the horses in a race have different colours on their numbers?
The colours of the saddle pads or towels the horses wear with their race number on it is to help fans spot the horse they’re cheering for in a race.
The traditional colours are:
Post # Colour
  1. Red
  2. White
  3. Blue
  4. Yellow
  5. Green
  6. Black
  7. Orange
  8. Pink
  9. Turquoise
  10. Purple
  11. Gray
  12. Lime
  13. Brown
  14. Maroon
  15. Khaki
  16. Copen Blue
  17. Navy
  18. Forest Green
  19. Moonstone
  20. Fuchsia
Post #     Colour
  1. Red
  2. Blue
  3. White
  4. Green
  5. Black
  6. Yellow
  7. Pink
  8. Grey
  9. Purple
  10. Blue/Red
  11. Light Blue
  12. Red/White
What happens to the horses after they have finished their racing careers?
Many racehorses enjoy very productive careers once they have been retired from racing. Many go on to produce the next generation of potential racehorses. Female horses may become broodmares and produce baby horses called foals in the winter. A horse’s gestation period is approximately 11 months. The very best male competitors in terms of racing ability or pedigree are in demand as stallions, also called sires.
A number of horses, primarily Standardbreds, are used by the Amish and/or Mennonites and in some cases provide their only method of transportation. Many others are used as riding horses in a variety of disciplines – hunter/ jumper, eventing, dressage, barrel racing, pleasure driving. Retired horses are also selected for programs like therapeutic horseback riding, designed to assist people of all ages with disabilities.
Are there adoption opportunities available for horses similar to other animals?
There are numerous associations devoted to finding forever homes for horses of all three breeds. Some provide training prior to adoption so that the horse is rider ready once they are re-homed. For more information, see Industry Links and learn more about our Post Racing Incentive Program.