HEATHCOTE (90 Beyer) won the Valedictory by 12 lengths under Emma-Jayne Wilson for Chiefswood Stabel ans trainer Paul Attard. Norm Files photo
WOODBINE WRAPS UP 2012, LAYOFFS BEGIN
The disastrous results of Dalton McGuinty’s absurb move to go ahead with a plan to curtail the Slots at Racetracks Program have been felt all year long in the racing industry in Ontario. Tracks have lost the slot machines and owners and breeders have been re-thinking their long term plans for staying in the business.
And yesterday, less than 24 hours after the last race had been run at Woodbine for 2012, that track had to continue with its cost cuttings (it has already cancelled some events such as the Woodbine Oaks luncheon/draw) as it laid off some 20 people from the TV department and moved another dozen to seasonal from full time.
Most notable, and shocking, of these moves was the release of popular commentator RENEE KIERANS, who has been a mainstay on the simulcast network as well as on CBC and The Score telecasts. From riding the pony for big races to greet winning jockeys/drivers, to handicapping races and interviewing people before and after races, Renee has been a knowledgable and welcomed meber of the TV broadcasts from the standpoint of fans and horsepeople. Not only is she a pro on-camera, but in her “spare time”, she trains and gallops a small stable of horses, pops out to the standardbred side to drive and exercise horses, hosts seminars and backstretch tours and, let’s not forget, handicap virtually every race that comes along. Putting together Pick 4 tickets and Horses to Watch and daily selections, the work Renee has done in almost a decade in this role has been above par.
From the Woodbine website, her bio reads:
Born and raised in Montreal, Renée Kierans graduated from the University of Guelph with a B.Sc. In 1983, while wanting to spend a year traveling, Renée ventured to New Zealand on a working holiday and found a job galloping horses at a racing stable on the North Island. Upon her return to Canada, Renée chose to investigate horse racing at home, and took a summer job exercising horses at Woodbine Racetrack in 1984.
Twenty-eight years later, she’s still there. While committed to becoming a student of the “game”, Renée involved herself in many facets of thoroughbred racing over the years including exercise rider, owner, trainer, pony girl, amateur jockey and outrider. Renée also attended the Stewards courses offered at the University of Louisville in 1998. Kierans’ career in the broadcast department at WEG began in November, 1999 at The Racing Network, where she worked as a technical operator and in various other positions in the simulcast show before moving over to the host’s booth.
The layoffs are not unexpected – Woodbine Entertainment Group has no idea how much money it will have t operate racing next season, never mind operate it on a scale that is has been at for 10 years. Slot share ends in March, 2013 and negotiations are ongoing for rental agreement fees for the machines.
The giant slot floor is gorgeous and popular, it makes sense for a casino to be set up at Woodbine, but everything is up in the air.
It was not reasonable to think that this great deal between the tracks and the government would go on forever (hey, if you have ever been laid off, let go after a long time in one job that you love, it’s horrible when it ends) and perhaps some pre-emptive work could have been done to ready the industry for these times.
The track is expected to release some stats on wagering for this year and one local paper was given the news that betting was up for last year by a few percentage points.
That’s good news, the product and facility are second to none on the world stage.
However, these layoffs, at least that of Ms. Kierans, is somewhat curious. It does not make sense to remove a high profile personality such as Renee, who offered insightful and intelligent views of the horses and the game, spicing things up away from some of the vanilla flavour and tone of the telecasts.
Whether she purses work in TV or in another aspect of racing – perhaps she will open her own stable of runners! – Renee has hundreds of followers and success will be just around the corner.
The layoffs surely will not end here and we have the government and the OLG to thank for that.
Renee Kierans interviews Joe Talamo after a Woodbine stakes win. Photo from Woodbine/Triple DeadHeat
The leaders (from Woodbine release)
Mark Casse recorded his sixth straight training title and seventh overall, winning 94 races, after notching a record 119 races in 2011. Casse also led in the purse earnings category, with $6,864,988.
Reade Baker was second on the trainers’ chart with 63 wins. Robert Tiller was third with 48 triumphs.
Luis Contreras collected his second consecutive Woodbine jockey title, recording 195 victories. Last year, he had 210 wins on the meet, falling just short of Mickey Walls’ classic 1991 record of 221 wins in a single meet.
Patrick Husbands was second in the standings with 167 wins, while Eurico Rosa da Silva was third (160 wins).
John Oxley led all owners at Woodbine with $2,534,602 in purse earnings. Bear Stables Ltd. was second with $1,995,141 and had the most wins with 45. Sam-Son Farm was third with $1,765,027.
On the racetrack, it was Wise Dan ($3.10) who turned heads with his brilliant showing in the Grade 1 Ricoh Woodbine Mile. Morton Fink’s homebred made it look easy, coasting to victory in the September turf race. He then went on to Breeders’ Cup glory for trainer Charles Lopresti, taking the Mile at Santa Anita in track record time, stamping himself a major contender for U.S. Horse of the Year honours in the process.
Strait of Dover ($9.60, to win) delivered jockey Justin Stein his first Queen’s Plate, taking Canada’s most famous horse race in June. Irish Mission ($20.50) took the Woodbine Oaks, presented by Budweiser, also in June, while finishing a strong second in the Plate. Joshua Tree ($10.70) notched his second triumph in the Grade 1, $1.5 million Pattison Canadian International, having previously won the event in 2010.
Consolidator Joe, Hold That Echo and Gentleman Jackson each had five wins to lead all runners at the 156-day season.
MEANWHILE, AT FORT ERIE…
There is still full power and effort going forward to get something for Fort Erie next year. OHRIA, the HBPA and Fort Erie Live Constorium are all working hard to formulate a plan for the popular track to continue with some kind of schedule next year
The Fort Erie Race Track will operate until at least March 31, according to Jim Thibert, chief executive officer of the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium.
That’s three more months to try to prevent the 115-year-old border oval from becoming just a footnote in history.
The consortium’s board voted in June to permanently close the track by the end of the year.
But when reached for comment Monday, Thibert said: “Dec. 31 is always the date of our contract for the past three years, and when the Ontario Lottery (and Gaming) Corporation said they were pulling the slots they indicated that they would pay all the racetracks until March 31,” he said.
“We asked them how would this affect our contract in Fort Erie because it’s over Dec. 31. They said, ‘We are going to treat you the same as everyone else so you will be able to operate until March 31.’”