Canadian horse racing

Racing in Canada revolves around Ontario in general and Woodbine Racetrack in particular.

And it’s not just all about the thoroughbred. Standardbreds (harness racing horses) make up much of the racing in Canada, while there is also strong interest in quarter-horse racing.

Woodbine, on the north-western edge of Toronto, Ontario, is home to the big-time thoroughbred action, hosting two of the three legs of the Canadian Triple Crown for three-year-olds, along with many more of the country’s major races. It was opened in 1956 and also hosts some of the country’s premier harness racing.

Canada’s racing industry was dealt a hefty blow in 2012 when the Ontario government cancelled its Slot at Racetracks Program (SARP), which had funded a boom era for the sport.

Slot machines were introduced at many racetracks in 1998 and proved a runaway success as far as funding the sport went, with 20 per cent of the revenue dedicated to racing. Prizemoney soared, investors lined up and the good times rolled, but when the program was abruptly cancelled it meant job losses, racetrack closures and lean times for the racing and breeding industries.

The industry has rallied in recent and is again headed in the right direction.

In March 2018, the Ontario government announced it would provide $C105 million in funding a year for the horse racing industry, for 19 years, starting in 2019.

Useful links:

Horse racing bet types
Gambling in Canada

Betting on Canadian horse racing

All the major bookies worldwide will have full markets on both the thoroughbreds and harness racing from Canada.

Canadians are keen punters on their own horse racing as well as events in the United States and beyond. The likes of Bet365, Paddy Power, William Hill and many more will accept Canadian bets.

See our guide here to discover the best betting sites to join for wagering in Canadian dollars.

Most of the bookies will provide the usual betting options: win, place, show and the exotics: quinellas, exactas, trifectas and more.

Canadian racing is covered by a pari-mutuel (totalisator) system, with its pools commingled with those of the United States. It is overseen by the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency (CPMA).

Brief history of racing in Canada

The first official race was held on July 1, 1767, when a mare named Modesty won a race worth $40 on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City.

Around 1793 racing began in Ontario, but was mostly unofficial and involved military personnel.

Things changed with the formation of the Upper Canada Turf Club in 1837. Races were held at Fort York on a Garrison Common course.

Courses sprang up around the country, predominantly in the south in Toronto and Ontario. The racing was popular but the quality of the horses was not great and the Queen’s Plate was introduced in 1860. Its then prizemoney of 50 guineas was seen as a way of bringing blueblood horses to the country. The Queen’s Plate remains the oldest continually run race in North America.

It would be remiss to speak of the history of racing and breeding in Canada without mentioning the mighty Northern Dancer, the darling of the country in the 1960s.

The Canadian-bred entire won the 1964 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes and later became arguably the world’s most influential sire of the 20th century after retiring to leading stud Windfields Farm because of injury in 1965. Northern Dancer was inducted into Canada’s sports hall of fame.

When is the Canadian throughbred season?

In Ontario, the thoroughbred season runs from April to December, while harness racing continues almost year round.

When in full swing the thoroughbred action will take place mostly on Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday, though there are regularly meetings on other days of the week. The biggest races are reserved for the weekends.

Racetracks of Canada

Woodbine: The No.1 track and also the only track in North America which hosts thoroughbred and standardbred (harness racing) action on the same day. Woodbine is the only track outside the United States to have hosted the mega-prizemoney Breeders’ Cup meeting, in 1996. Hosts the bulk of Canada’s big races

Fort Erie: Racing began here in 1897 and “The Fort” is regarded as one of the most picturesque courses in North America. Home to the group 1 Prince Of Wales Stakes.

Canada’s most popular harness tracks include Woodbine Harness, Mohawk Raceway, Western Fair Raceway, and Flamboro Downs. There are many standardbred tracks spread across the provinces, most of them in Ontario.

Highlights of the Canadian racing calendar

Canadian Triple Crown
As the name suggests a series of three races, open to local three-year-olds, including geldings, with the first Triple Crown contested in 1959. The trio of races are run over the same distances as the US Triple Crown events. In the Canadian version, the first leg is the Queen’s Plate over 1¼ miles (about 2000 metres) on the tapeta (synthetic) track at Woodbine, Toronto. It is the oldest race in North America. The second leg is the Prince Of Wales Stakes over 1 3/16th miles (about 1900 metres) on dirt at Fort Erie, Ontario.The final leg is the Breeders’ Stakes over 1½ miles (about 2400 metres) on turf at the Woodbine.

Woodbine International
A mile and a half (2400 metres) race on turf held at the home of racing in Canada. In 1973 the mighty U.S. Triple Crown winner Secretariat had his final start in this race, then known as the Canadian International Stakes, winning by 6.5 lengths in front of a massive crowd at Woodbine. Since then many great international gallopers have added their names to the honour roll.

List of Canadian grade 1 races

Race Month* State Prizemoney Distance Track
Queen’s Plate June Ontario $C1 million 1¼ miles (2000m) Woodbine Racetrack
Prince Of Wales Stakes July Ontario $C500,000 1 3/16th miles (1900m) Fort Erie Race Track
Breeders’ Stakes August Ontario $C500,000 1½ miles (2400m) Woodbine Racetrack
Canadian International Stakes October Ontario $C800,000 1½ miles (2400m) Woodbine Racetrack
E.P. Taylor Stakes October Ontario $C500,000 1 ¼ miles (2000m) Woodbine Racetrack
Natalma Stakes September Ontario $C250,000 1 mile (1600m) Woodbine Racetrack
Northern Dancer Turf Stakes September Ontario $C227,000 1½ miles (2400m) Woodbine Racetrack
Woodbine Mile September Ontario $C800,000 1 mile (1600m) Woodbine Racetrack