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Jim Lawson Weekly Industry Update - April 29 2020

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Jim Lawson Weekly Industry Update - April 29 2020

April 29, 2020
Jim Lawson Weekly Industry Update - April 29 2020
To all Ontario Horsepeople,
 
I hope you and your loved ones are all doing well. Before providing a couple of important updates, I would like to take a moment to sincerely thank you for your steady patience, cooperation and understanding while we navigate through these difficult times together. I remain very optimistic and confident regarding the future of the horse racing industry in Ontario. As you will see in this week’s update, we are taking nothing for granted and working very hard to do everything we can to re-start the industry with the resumption of live racing (safely and following government and health officials’ directions) in the near-term and sustain the industry for the long-term.
 
For this week’s update here are a couple of key points I’d like to highlight:
 
The Resumption of Live Racing: As you are aware, I have been very reluctant to speculate when we might be able to return to live racing (without spectators). While I remain consistent with this approach, we are working very hard behind the scenes to prepare for it.
 
We are distinct from other sports and entertainment properties as we can conduct our live races without the public and with strict physical distancing protocols in place. Many of you in Standardbred racing experienced this when we conducted safe live racing cards at Mohawk on March 16th and 19th without spectators and respecting the government guidelines on physical distancing.
 
Over the past few weeks, we have spent considerable time developing safety and physical distancing protocols that would be implemented in the event the government guidelines permit the resumption of live racing. Our Provincial Regulator, The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) has participated in this detailed planning and is supportive of adjusting the Rules of Racing to accommodate our newly developed protocols.
 
With the optimism that we all need to share, we anticipate that we are approximately six weeks away from resuming live racing (under the strict conditions being developed with the AGCO) if the Provincial Declaration of Emergency is lifted and parts of the economy are permitted to gradually re-open following government and health officials’ guidelines.  I will continue to provide updates in the coming weeks on how we are progressing towards this optimistic target.
 
Qualifiers for Standardbred Racing: As part of our ongoing discussions and planning with the AGCO on the resumption of live racing, we are also working with them on a plan for qualifying requirements. We are working towards a solution that would be consistent with our efforts to resume live racing as early as possible.
 
Training Horses at Woodbine: Currently, there are approximately 1,100 Thoroughbreds stabled on the Woodbine backstretch. We are operating with only essential staff and have strict protocols in place to help protect everyone. In an effort to keep more people safe at home during this period of lockdown, we have not offered timed workouts, or starting gate work. However, as we prepare for the above optimistic timelines to return to live Thoroughbred racing sometime in June, we appreciate that horses need to be worked to be ready to race. To that end, starting on Friday, May 1, we are allowing trainers to breeze horses.  Within a couple of weeks, we hope to add staff for timed workouts and starting gate operations.
 
It's important to understand that we are operating the backstretch to provide stabling and care for the livestock which is deemed an essential business under the Provincial Government’s Declaration of Emergency. We have essential Woodbine Entertainment staff working to operate the backstretch under these conditions. We are doing our very best to advance our training facilities, operations and personnel as we all prepare for the resumption of live racing. However, we need to be respectful of the Government’s protocol as it relates to the operation of essential businesses at this time.
 
We will continue to provide updates on this matter and adhere to the Government phasing of businesses gradually re-opening.
 
New Initiatives: As you have learned over the past year or so, we have been developing an innovative mobile betting app for horse racing called ‘Dark Horse’. This product simplifies betting on horse racing, both in its user experience design and by using artificial intelligence, which levels the playing field for new and novice players. ‘Dark Horse’ was originally developed with the sports bettor as a prime target. Given the current circumstances with horse racing being the only sport operating in North America, it is the perfect time to introduce ‘Dark Horse’ to those sports bettors who may be looking to be engaged and would welcome a user-friendly horse race betting app.
 
We are anticipating that we will launch ‘Dark Horse’ in the coming weeks, hopefully coinciding with some good news and clarity on the resumption of our own live racing.
 
Earlier this week, we had a very positive discussion with the federal government regarding how the legalization of Historical Horse Racing could provide additional financial relief to the horse racing industry while not costing the government any additional money. Furthermore, HHR would also protect the industry from any future closure of non-essential businesses should the COVID-19 pandemic return.
 
It’s too early to know if we will be successful, but we are confident and remain highly focused on this opportunity.
 
Ontario Racing Purse Allocation Program: Ontario Racing continues to process thousands of applications for the Purse Allocation program. They expect to start mailing cheques for the month of April to eligible applicants in early May once the funds are received from the OLG.
 
Cheques for Standardbred horsepeople who were qualified to race during the week of March 25 -31 have been mailed and should be in the hands of those eligible to receive them shortly. 
 
Stronger Together: As mentioned last week, we are planning to host another live video conference on Tuesday, May 12 at 2 p.m. I look forward to speaking to you all then and hopefully we can share some positive news on the return of live racing.
 
Thank you and be safe,
 
Jim Lawson
 

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