TORONTO — It will be another late start for the $1-million Queen's Plate.
Woodbine Entertainment announced Tuesday its marquee event will be held Sunday Aug. 22 instead of its traditional date of late June due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year's race was originally scheduled for June 27 but the first event of the OLG Canadian Triple Crown was rescheduled to Sept. 12 because of the novel coronavirus with no spectators at Woodbine Racetrack.
The global pandemic resulted in no fans being allowed to all three legs of the Triple Crown, including the $400,000 Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie Racetrack and the $400,000 Breeders' Stakes at Woodbine.
Jim Lawson, the CEO of Woodbine Entertainment, is hopeful that with the availability of COVID vaccinations, the August date could result in some spectators attending the '21 Queen's Plate.
"The best advice we have today is there will be a critical mass of the population done by mid-August," Lawson said. "Hopefully, that would allow us have some group of fans there that have been vaccinated.
Woodbine stages a festival around the Queen's Plate that includes outdoor concerts and social functions.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced those events to be cancelled last year and Lawson wasn't hopeful about that being changed in 2021.
"We don't expect a big festival like we've had in other years," he said. "We're comfortable that after a lot of medical input that Aug. 22 is probably a day that we'll be able to have some sort of event . . . but it won't be obviously like we've seen in prior years because of COVID."
Lawson also confirmed Tuesday that a reason for pushing the Plate back was to give Canadian-bred horses more time to prepare for the 1 1/4-mile race distance. A source told The Canadian Press on Monday a number of Canadian trainers were staying put rather than heading to American tracks to condition their horses.
The race has traditionally been run on a Saturday, but Lawson said that decision to move to a Sunday wasn't an accident.
"We took a hard look that if we were going to do it in August we're bumping up against Saratoga," he said. "Saratoga will do US$25 million (wagering) on a regular Saturday.
"Everything pointed to late August or early September and when we looked at early September we looked at competition from the NFL, TV schedules, there's just a ton of factors that you check the box on.
"You don't get everything you want but on balance with our most important factors, which were horse readiness and preparedness and the ability to have some spectators and be able to sell this sport that way, this worked the best."
Woodbine's 2021 stakes schedule hasn't been finalized yet, but Lawson said both the $150,000 Plate Trial and $500,000 Woodbine Oaks for fillies — two key Plate prep races — will be held about three weeks prior to the Queen's Plate. And the expectation is the two remaining Triple Crown events will be run sometime in September and October.
Lawson also expects the $1-million Ricoh Woodbine Mile to be run sometime in September and the hope is Woodbine will be able to stage the $1-million Pattison Canadian International in 2021. The race, which is traditionally run in October and is one of Woodbine's top fall events, usually attracts some of Europe's top horses but was postponed last year because of the global pandemic.
"That (running International) is one topic still to be determined," Lawson said. "Our inclination is to try and run it, we're just deciding when it's best."
While the novel coronavirus is playing havoc with scheduling, Lawson said he doesn't see a decrease in purses at Woodbine this year.
Woodbine is targeting April 17 as the start for its '21 thoroughbred card. Triple Crown nominations are due Feb. 1.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2021.