TORONTO — Woodbine Entertainment said Tuesday it will continue stabling horses on its backstretch and provide the essential care they need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The announcement came after the Ontario government extended its declaration of emergency due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. That includes the closure of non-essential workplaces and restrictions on social gatherings.
In addition, the Ontario government issued a new emergency order closing all outdoor recreational amenities, such as sports fields and playgrounds.
"These horses need a home and our land and facilities were created exactly for the purpose of caring for these animals," Jim Lawson, the CEO of Woodbine Entertainment, said in a statement. "Furthermore, horsepeople have requested that we keep our backstretch open and we have only done so in accordance with the government deeming stabling an essential business.
"We have also followed strict government direction to minimize the risk in the spread of COVID-19."
Woodbine Entertainment added businesses providing for the health and welfare of animals, including stabling, have been deemed essential workplaces by the Ontario government.
Last month, Woodbine Entertainment announced it had indefinitely postponed the start of the 2020 thoroughbred racing season at Woodbine Racetrack due to the outbreak. The meet was scheduled to begin April 18 and the decision to postpone it came after the Ontario government mandated all non-essential businesses close.
While horses will remain in stables in the backstretch, it will continue to operate under adherence to government and official health agency guidelines. That includes limited access to the backstretch by essential employees and licensed personnel only; and EMS verbally screening and taking the temperature of individuals permitted to access the backstretch.
Physical distancing will continue to be deployed as the 33 barns in use are spread across 200 acres, with all common areas remaining closed. In addition to reduced hours of access to the backstretch _ including a mandatory closure to everyone during midday _ horse vans arriving with Canadian horses returning from the U.S. must unload outside the backstretch area, then be met by Canadian-based staff to walk the animals to barn areas.
Starting on Tuesday, Woodbine Entertainment is restricting to the backstretch to designated personnel for each horse only.
"The HBPA and horse people are very grateful to Woodbine for continuing to operate its backstretch during this time and for doing so with the health and safety of everyone at the forefront," said HBPA president Sue Leslie. "We are very proud of our horse people currently located at Woodbine, who have been practising important protocol outlined by health officials, and we want to remind everyone that it is of utmost importance we stay on guard so that we can continue to care for our horses."
Woodbine Entertainment said to date, there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 in the backstretch.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2020.