Fort Erie Files Trade Grievance Against Woodbine

Ontario’s two Thoroughbred tracks are sparring. The Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium (FELRC) announced Tuesday it has filed a grievance with the Canadian Trade Commission over an alleged “impasse in their attempts to resolve ongoing issues” with Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG), which runs Woodbine Racetrack.

“For the past several race seasons, Woodbine has implemented a horse shipping policy which, in the opinion of the FELRC’s board of directors, is designed to starve Fort Erie of its necessary horse supply by restricting the movement of horses between the two tracks,” stated the Fort Erie release. “This amounts to Woodbine abusing its position as the dominant market force, which is hampering Fort Erie’s ability to run a business and a fulsome race calendar.”

Fort Erie is also alleging that Woodbine’s refusal to return the Canadian Triple Crown dates to their pre-pandemic calendar spots equates to a “refusal to collaborate in the best interest of the horse racing industry” at large.

“By far the largest attraction in Canadian horse racing, the Triple Crown begins with the King’s Plate at Woodbine, followed by the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie, and finally the Breeders’ Stakes back at Woodbine,” the Fort Erie release stated.

“Traditionally the three races were held consecutively in June, July, then August,” the Fort Erie release stated. “However, during the COVID crisis, certain restrictions necessitated moving the first jewel of the crown, the King’s Plate, to later in the summer. This pushed Fort Erie’s signature race, the Prince of Wales Stakes, out of the summer tourism season, and into September.

“With the pandemic over, Woodbine has refused to move the King’s Plate back to its regular spring date, or even a mutually planned date, forcing Fort Erie to keep the Prince of Wales Stakes in September,” which does “not allow Fort Erie to meet its maximum potential for such a historic and esteemed event,” Fort Erie claimed.

The Ontario news site NiagaraThisWeek reported Tuesday that a Woodbine spokesperson denied Fort Erie’s allegations.

“The assertions made by Fort Erie Race Track are baseless and without merit and we will vigorously and confidently defend ourselves if requested by the Canadian Trade Commission or any other regulatory authority,” Woodbine communications director Jamie Dykstra told NiagaraThisWeek.

Jim Thibert, the chief executive officer of the FELRC, took an opposing view.

“Woodbine holds a near monopoly in our industry,” Thibert said in the Fort Erie statement. “Woodbine’s business practices towards Fort Erie are unfair and clearly predatorial. While this situation is particularly harmful for the continued existence of racing at Fort Erie, it is genuinely harmful for the owners, trainers, jockeys and others employed directly in racing and indirectly in services to the thoroughbred racing industry in Ontario.”

The Fort Erie release outlined another allegation: “Further demonstration of Woodbine’s hostility is their continued practice of greatly inflating purses in lower level races compared to Fort Erie’s, especially claiming races. The use of provincial subsidies for horse racing should not be allowed especially when Woodbine is increasingly running more and more of Fort Erie’s race offerings.”

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