Letter to the Editor: Hugh Mitchell on Woodbine

Horse racing is an honourable sport that is steeped in tradition; built by generations of hardworking and passionate individuals and families. It’s an industry that brings people together from all walks of life, and is critically dependent on everyone’s contribution to its stability and success. While this diversity of roles and shared passion is racing’s greatest strength, it exists within a very complex and challenging business environment that results in constant pressure to plan, adapt, and aggressively fight to secure our future.

At Woodbine Entertainment, we own and operate two racetracks: Woodbine Mohawk Park (Standardbred racing) and Woodbine Racetrack (Thoroughbred racing). If you are reading this with interest, it’s important to understand that Woodbine operates as a not-for-profit minded organization. The late, great breeder and visionary, E.P. Taylor, donated a large piece of land in Toronto where Woodbine Racetrack is now situated. His vision was to provide this land, and this racetrack, to the hardworking horse people of Ontario so they would always have a place to race horses and earn a living doing so. Woodbine Entertainment, formerly the Ontario Jockey Club, carries the responsibility, mandate, and obligation to honour his vision. We do not have an owner nor shareholders. We have an independent and committed Board of Directors whose job is to ensure that this mandate is strictly followed. Our executive management team is accountable to this Board.  Every decision we make is to create a strong and sustainable Ontario horse racing industry. That’s why Woodbine exists, and for no other reason. Every dollar of profit we make is invested to support the entire Ontario horse racing industry. Our vision and ambition is to support all current industry stakeholders as best we can while also thoughtfully investing to grow the Ontario horse racing industry towards a strong, vibrant, and sustainable future.  It’s a very difficult balance requiring judgment and trade-offs. We recognize that not everyone will agree with the decisions we make to achieve this balance, however, we hope and expect that everyone will respect our motivation and purpose to support the present and future of racing in Ontario.

A decade ago, the provincial government in power at the time ended a lucrative funding agreement that was supporting horse racing. This decision almost killed the industry in Ontario. At the time, the only path forward was for Woodbine Entertainment to lead the industry-something that was asked of us by the government, and staying true to E.P. Taylor’s vision, we agreed. We worked tirelessly to reach a new long-term funding agreement that is now in place. To this day, we continue to lead the industry at a substantial cost to our operations, and we do so proudly.

While this long-term funding agreement is essential to our industry’s existence today, our vision is to develop the property that Woodbine Racetrack is situated on to create new revenue streams that will eventually allow us to not depend on government funding. This will support our mandate to create a strong and sustainable Ontario horse racing industry. Every cent of profit generated from this investment will be used to support the industry. In addition to fueling substantially larger purses, we will be able to invest even more heavily in our racing facilities, people and industry support programs.

We’re also investing in other game-changing areas like sports betting and technology-things that will further develop new revenue streams that will be spent back on racing in Ontario. Until we get some of these major initiatives across the finish line, we need to continue to operate prudently and be patient to allow the long-term vision to come to life. At the same time, we understand the challenges that all of our industry stakeholders face today. It’s difficult to make a reasonable living, and we must provide as much support as financially possible while building towards a brighter future. We must allocate the dollars we have available today across numerous stakeholders that often have different priorities, issues, and needs.

In the meantime, wagering is Woodbine’s primary line of business that can immediately drive significant incremental revenue. This revenue supports the above-mentioned purses and capital improvements. Therefore, healthy field sizes and competitive racing is necessary to provide a product that will drive wagering.

Despite the challenges our industry faces today, we are extremely confident in our future. We are a world-class racing industry with tremendous opportunity in front of us. We are blessed with an incredibly hardworking and talented group of horse people and employees. If we take care of our people today, and provide for a better future for them tomorrow, we will have successfully achieved the future E.P. Taylor envisioned decades ago.


Hugh Mitchell

Chair, Board of Directors

Woodbine Entertainment

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