Woodbine is an underrated track, and one that should be of interest to international horseplayers. There is a focus on turf racing, which makes it a little less foreign – Woodbine is the only track in North America where the “main” track – the one closest to the stands – is grass.
There are two days at Woodbine that typically attract international runners which helps as well –Woodbine Mile day, which typically attracts an overseas runner or two, and Canadian International day, which typically attracts a number of shippers for its various stakes races.
At times, racing at Woodbine can almost feel like it’s somewhere in-between English racing and USA racing, as befits its Canadian heritage. It should also be noted that in a normal year, Woodbine is a fantastic place to visit – it’s located near the airport, and the weather in the fall for for Woodbine Mile day is typically lovely. That is also usually the closing weekend of TIFF (the Toronto International Film Festival), adding to the appeal and potentially giving horseplayers a lure to catch the interest of our significant others.
Woodbine is a major North American racetrack located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The track has a rich and storied history with the original location opening in 1874 in east Toronto, at the end of Woodbine Avenue. The new track, opened in 1956, is miles from there, but retains the name.
The immortal Secretariat closed out his racing career in the 1973 Canadian International with a win in the 1½ mile turf race, delighting his legion of fans with the wide-margin victory that had become the hallmark of his career.
The 1996 Breeders’ Cup was held at Woodbine, with a thrilling race in the Classic when Alphabet Soup upset a deep field that included Preakness winner Louis Quatorze and the great Cigar, denying that one a second straight win in the race, whilst in the Turf Sir Michael Stoute saddled a memorable 1-2 with Pidsudski beating Singspeil.
Woodbine is also home to the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.
Woodbine has one long meeting. In 2020, it began in June and will carry on until mid-December. In a typical year, the track will open mid-April with its turf racing beginning in June, depending on the weather.
There is a lot of top-level racing at Woodbine, with seven Grade 1s, 14 Grade 2s, and 21 Grade 3s contested there annually. The most important race of all is ungraded because it’s restricted to Canadian-breds, that’s the prestigious Queen’s Plate, run for three-year-olds at 10 furlongs – essentially the Canadian Derby. Great horses to win the Plate include Northern Dancer, With Approval, and Breeders' Cup Classic winner Awesome Again. Queen Elizabeth II has attended the race twice, first in 1959 for the 100th running and again in 2010 on a state visit to Canada.
The Woodbine Mile is another race worth calling out as in recent years it has proved a great prep for the Breeders’ Cup Mile, won by some top horses including Leroidesanimaux, Wise Dan (twice), and Tepin.
There are three courses at Woodbine, the longest of which is the E. P. Taylor Turf Course, a 1½ mile (2.4 km) long grass course. Mile races are run out of a chute. Unlike nearly all USA turf courses, it is an irregular oval, with the backstretch higher than the homestretch. Its peculiarities will definitely give some horses an advantage over others and can allow local jocks an edge over the more famous out-of-time rivals on the big days. It tends to be a much more galloping configuration that other USA turf courses, with plenty of time to launch closing runs and not as much of an edge for horses who are handy – stamina can really come into play.
Inside the Taylor course there is a 1-mile (1.6k) course for Thoroughbreds comprised of Tapeta. Most of the time it plays fair, but biases can occur, with the rail being favored or dead at times. Ron Gierkink, the Daily Racing Form analyst for Woodbine, does a great job noting biases in his writings.
An inner-turf course debuted for the 2019 thoroughbred racing season to allow for more turf racing. You would typically think the inner course would favor speed, and it can, but the favored running styles in these races often come down to pace – if they go too quick, closers can still win, though they typically must start their runs on the turn because of the short stretch.
JOCKEY AND TRAINER STATS
Except where noted, the stats in this piece were compiled with the help of self-professed “numbers geek,” and regular contributor to inthemoneypodcast.com, John Camardo. They were compiled throughout 2018-2019.
Where possible, two stats we like to track are ROI (return on investment, looking at what happen if you wagered a dollar via the tote on every mount), and IV (Impact Value, how often connections win compared to have often they “should” win, as implied by the odds. When evaluating ROI, keep in mind that any number over $0.85 should be considered a positive result, in the sense that $0.15 is taken out of every wagering dollar via the tote pools. If you’re “beating the takeout,” you are doing very well. With Impact Values, a number of 1.0 means something happens exactly as much as it should, with negative numbers indicating they don’t happen as often as they should and positive values indicating just the opposite.
It must be noted that the jockey colony at Woodbine is in a bit of a transitional state with the retirement of last year’s leading rider Eurico Da Silva.
It’s all in the process of shaking out now but this meet it looks like Rafael Hernandez and Justin Stein are getting the mounts that Da Silva used to get, with Kazushi Kimura picking up a lot more work for the always powerful Mark Casse barn. Their numbers across the board should begin to reflect the new quality of mounts.
Leaving out DaSilva (whose stats were otherworldly), the top honors by volume go to Rafael Hernandez, who not only has far and away the most wins (172, 50 more than the next jock) but also comes out well on the advanced metrics with an IV of 1.11 and a takeout-beating ROI of $0.88.
Emma-Jayne Wilson deserves to be called out for her excellent performance with an IV of 1.13 and an ROI of $1.01.
ALL-WEATHER ROUTES (races at 1 mile or longer)
These look a lot like the sprints, at least at the top of the table, with DaSilva in his own stratosphere, followed by Rafael Hernandez, who checks in with a win percentage over 19%, a 1.09 IV and a solid if unspectacular $0.79 ROI.
Our list of at least 14 percent winners with 1.0+ IVs and takeout beating ROIs is a bit longer in routes: Daisuke Fukumoto, Jerome Lermyte, Kazushi Kimura, and we’ll add Patrick Husbands too though he misses by $0.07 of ROI.
Rafael Hernandez is out front once again among active jocks with wins (41) and solid on the advanced metrics: 15.47% strike, slightly low 0.95 IV and a solid $0.91 ROI.
I’m inclined to upgrade the mounts of the latter three or at least give them all an extra look in turf sprints. They are winning more than they are meant to and the crowd isn’t fully appreciating the difference between them and other riders.
There’s that man again – this time even out ahead of Da Silva – as Rafael Hernandez truly stands out with a 22% strike rate, 1.39 IV, and $1.20 ROI. Unreal.
Anecdotally, I’d heard that Kazushi Kimura excellent in turf routes and the numbers bear this out: 17.49% strike rate, 1.47 IV (!), and a $0.97 ROI.
A third rider to call out here is Luis Contreras: 15% strike rate, 1.05 IV, and $1.08.
By volume, we must start with Norm McKnight and has 190 winners. He’s strong on the advanced stats too: 32% / 1.11 / $0.87.
Mark Casse, synonymous with success at WO, also very strong with 131 wins and 20.5%/1.05/$0.92.
The win percentages catch the eye for Josie Carroll (21% / 1.13 / $0.88), Ralph Biamonte (19% / 1.13 / $1.07), Robert Tiller (21% / 1.12 / $0.91), Kevin Attard (19% / 1.11 / $0.86), and Sid Attard (17% / 1.03 / $0.90).
Props are due once again to clan Attard with strong numbers for Sid (20% / 1.24 / $1.24) and Kevin (17% / 1.15 / $1.01).
This list is also notable for names not on it, trainers I always think of when I think of Woodbone turf like Roger Attfield (16% / 0.94 / $0.77), Josie Carroll (9% / 0.68 / $0.46), and Catherine Day-Phillips (8% / 0.54 / $0.40). Perhaps I, like the crowd, have been overbetting them.
SPEED FIGURE PARS
The Beyer Speed Figures are the gold standard in speed figures. They are available from Daily Racing Form. The numbers presented below were arrived at with the help of professional horseplayer Sean Boarman, who has been making his own Beyer-style figures for 15 years.
For three-year-old males and up, the average winning figure of a maiden special weight is 76. Bottom-level maiden claimers for the same runners typically go in a 54. Bottom-level open claiming winners also typically run a 68. First-level allowance winners typically run an 82. High level allowance horses run around 89. Listed stakes caliber types are more likely to run around a 96, Grade 2 and 3 stakes are both around 97, and Grade 1s can be expected to go in the low 100s.
As a general rule, you can adjust your pars down for fillies and mares (7 pts), Ontario-bred (9 pts), and on a sliding scale for younger three-year-olds and two-year-olds (the younger the runners, the slower the figures).
These come courtesy of STATS Race Lens power user – and my friend – Matt Vagvolgyi. Thank you, Matt!
It’s rare that you can find angles to produce a flat bet profit from a trainer that sends out that as many winners as Norm McKnight. And yet, in a large sample, when McKnight halters a runner who is projected to make the front in an all-weather sprint, that’s exactly what you get: a return of $1.05 on every dollar wagered.
There is a similar angle on the jockey side: Rafael Hernandez has an amazing mark when he’s riding the projected speed in an all-weather sprint. Heading into this year, these runners won at 33 percent and created a 19 percent return.
We noted above that Nicholas Nosowenko had strong numbers when it came to all-weather routes, but it’s worth calling out his particular success at one-mile-and-one-sixteenth: 30 percent winners and a 119 percent return per dollar.
This next one concerns an under-the-radar barn in synth routes. In the previous five years, with limited starters (18), Santino Di Paola won 17% of them and produced a near 200% ROI. The barn is off to a slow start in 2020 – 0 for 11 to start the meet – but has so far only had two starters going long on synth. I’m keeping an eye on this one.
Gail Cox was not called out above in our trainer stats section but her performance in Turf routes is very strong. Over the last five years, she’s won at 20% (10 for 50) and produced a 97% ROI.
The Woodbine website has a lot of great information, especially the Clocker Reports by Ernie Perri. There are also links to various analysts coverage of Woodbine. In addition to Ron Gierkink, who as noted above does a good job writing about Woodbine for Daily Racing Form, Doug McPherson is worth following. He writes about Woodbine for the Toronto Sun. Drew Coatney writes about Woodbine over at inthemoneypodcast.com and we usually discuss the Saturday Woodbine races (and provide other Woodbine content) on the In the Money Players’ Podcasts.