Our History

History of Woodbine Entertainment Group

1881
The Ontario Jockey Club is created.  On July 1, the Queen’s Plate returns to Toronto and is held at
“The Woodbine,” a picturesque track by the shores of Lake Ontario.

1939
King George VI became the first reigning monarch to witness the running of the King’s Plate at Woodbine Park, later named “Old Woodbine” and then Greenwood.

1947
Newly appointed director of the Ontario Jockey Club (OJC), Edward Plunket Taylor embarked on a bold plan to bring horse racing in the Toronto area up to the same standards as leading racetracks in North America.
His plan centered on acquiring local racetracks (Hamilton, Thorncliffe, Long Branch, Dufferin and Stamford) and consolidating their racing charters into three racetracks: Fort Erie, Greenwood and a to-be-built Woodbine.

By the end of 1955, the OJC had acquired enough racing charters to conduct 196 thoroughbred and 252 standardbred race dates.

1950
Maple Leaf Trot Stakes race is run for the first time at Dufferin Park.

1954
“Old Woodbine” opens for Standardbred Racing.

1956
On 780 acres in the Township of Etobicoke, a new Woodbine Racetrack opened.  The modern and spacious facility, complete with a one-mile oval dirt track and seven-eights turf course, was adorned with beautiful infield ponds complete with scenic waterfalls.  It was the crowning jewel in E.P. Taylor’s master plan to streamline the province’s racing industry and transform a fragmented, inefficient “leaky-roof circuit” into one of the world’s elite racing facilities.

In the years that followed, the momentum generated from Woodbine’s opening would spark an evolution and growth that would forever change the landscape of the Canadian horseracing industry and make it one of the best anywhere in the world.

1959
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh attend the Queen’s Plate.

1963
With an explosion in the popularity of standardbred racing in the early 1960s, the Ontario Jockey Club (OJC) announced plans to build a new harness racing facility in Southern Ontario.  On April 26, with a crowd of 4,338 in attendance, Mohawk Racetrack opened. Constructed at a cost of $3.5 million, it included barns for 828 horses and parking for 3,000 cars. The 400-acre site left plenty of room for expansion of the stables, grandstand and parking areas, which would become necessary as fans flocked to the new racetrack

First Canadian Standardbred Horse Society Yearling Sale is held at Woodbine Sales Arena with thirty yearlings catalogued.

1964
On May 2, under the famed twin spires of Churchill Downs Racetrack in Kentucky, Northern Dancer made history and a nation proud, becoming the first Canadian-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby in a record time of 2.00 minutes flat.

Returning home to Woodbine a national hero and with jockey Bill Hartack in the saddle, Northern Dancer waltzed to the wire in Canada’s most famous horse race, winning the Queen’s Plate by 7½ lengths.  This would be his last race before retiring to become the sport’s most prolific sire of all time.

Garden City Raceway opens in St. Catharines, Ontario.

1970
On April 18, a record crowd of 11,470 attended the International Drivers Competition at Mohawk Racetrack that featured drivers from eight different countries.

1973
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh attend the Queen’s Plate.

Secretariat, a horse than many call the greatest of all time, races for the final time at Woodbine in the Canadian International Championship before being retired to stud at Claiborne Farm in Lexington, Kentucky.

1976
The OJC introduces the first cash, self-automated wagering system in North America. The OJC closes its Garden City Raceway in St. Catharines.

1982
The OJC introduces the first simulcast wagering in North America when live racing at Fort Erie is broadcast to Woodbine.

1984
Inaugural running of the North America Cup at Greenwood Racetrack.  Ontario Jockey Club tracks approved for Inter-Track betting between their own racetracks.

1986
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother graciously accepted the OJC’s invitation to be the Royal Patron of The Queen’s Plate Stakes.  A title The Queen Mother held until her passing in 2002. A loyal supporter and friend of Woodbine The Queen Mom awarded the Fifty Guineas to the owner of The Queen’s Plate Stakes winner a total of eight times.

1987
The Ontario Racing Commission (ORC) approves Sunday racing at Greenwood Racetrack.

1993
The first “Champions” off-track wagering location is opened at the Doctor’s House.

Greenwood Racetrack in the Beaches Area of Toronto closes as a racetrack, but plans to operate the facility as a teletheatre as part of the off-track wagering network.

1994
The corporation commenced the most ambitious track reconstruction project ever undertaken in North America.  Over the course of approximately 9 months, a 7/8 mile Harness track, a 1 mile Thoroughbred dirt track and a 1½ mile turf course were constructed making Woodbine Canada’s showplace for thoroughbred racing,

On September 10, Woodbine’s world-class E.P. Taylor Turf Course opens to rave reviews. The course that is named in tribute to Woodbine’s founder, has the well-earned reputation as one of the finest anywhere in the world, and continues to attract many of the world’s best turf horses.

On New Year’s Day with the unveiling of its new seven-eighths mile standardbred track, including state-of-the-art racetrack lighting, Woodbine became the only dual racing facility in North America offering thoroughbred racing in the daytime and standardbred racing at night.

1996
On Saturday, October 26, Woodbine became the first race track outside the United States to host the Breeders’ Cup World Championship.

Woodbine becomes “home” to the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.

1997
Horseplayer Interactive (HPI) was introduced, which brought together the best of Internet, telephone and television distribution systems to offer customers the convenience of telephone account wagering (TAB) service allowing customers to wager on racetracks across Canada, North America and around the world.

On July 11, WEG’s Board of Directors approve the sale of Fort Erie Racetrack.

On December 19, the OJC opened its new 42,000 sq. ft. off-track wagering facility at Greenwood.

1998
Paid admission is eliminated at all OJC racetracks.

A new saddling area is built under the grandstand allowing customers to get a closer view of the horses before each race.

Mohawk’s five-eighths mile track is enlarged to a seven-eights track.

1999
A multi-million dollar facelift of Woodbine and Mohawk begins in preparation for the introduction of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation’s “Slots at Racetracks” program.  In August, Mohawk unveils its new slot area complete with 750 machines, a racebook featuring simulcast racing from across North America and refurbished dining areas.

Woodbine’s Harness track was changed from the existing limestone surface to one utilizing crushed lava rock.

The Racing Network (TRN) is launched with The Ontario Jockey Club as a major partner.  TRN is a national English specialty television service dedicated to Canadian and international horse racing and horse racing related programming, including live races, related commentary, odds, replays, and results

The pinnacle of the OJC’s standardbred season came in October when Mohawk Raceway proudly hosted, for the first time, eight Breeders Crown races on an evening race card making it the richest event in Canadian harness racing history.

2000
On March 27, Woodbines opens its new racing, gaming and entertainment facility compete with a 57,000 sq. ft slot machine floor, bars, restaurants and a renovated second-floor grandstand. The slot area holds 1,700 machines (operated by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG)).

2001
To better reflect its growing multi-dimensional business operation, the OJC changed its corporate name to Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG).  Under the leadership of Chairman David S. Willmot, the not-for-profit corporation embarked on a series of industry-leading innovations to drive economic sustainability and position itself for future success.

2002
On April 30, WEG purchases Hastings Park, the thoroughbred racetrack in Vancouver, British Columbia.

2003
Venturing further into the entertainment marketplace, WEG opens Turf Lounge, an upscale fine-dining restaurant/bar and teletheatre in the heart of Toronto’s financial district, located on Bay Street.

2004
WEGZ Stadium Bar opens. One of the biggest and best sports bars in Canada, it boasts: off-track wagering, 90 big screen TVs, 10-10’x10’ HD screens and one massive 16’ x 22’ theatre-style screen. The state-of the-art 23,000 square-foot facility is located just minutes from Woodbine at 2610 Rutherford Road in Vaughan.

Internet wagering becomes a reality with the launch of HPIBet.com – Canada’s first legal online horse betting service. Horseplayers can now enjoy the convenience of betting online on over 150 racetracks around the world.

On April 7, 2004, WEG sells Hastings Park to The Great Canadian Gaming Corp.

2006
On Sunday July 23, Woodbine celebrates its 50th anniversary highlighted by the inaugural running of the Northern Dancer Breeders’ Cup Turf. In addition to the big race, fans took home a limited-edition 50th anniversary magazine, a boxed set of the 2006 Woodbine Jockey Card Collection and a collectable bottle filled with actual dirt from the racetrack that played host to some of the most unbelievable moments and unforgettable memories over the last half-century.

“Woodbine goes wireless” allowing fans on-track to place wagers through HPI on a BlackBerry and other hand-held devices.

To improve the health and safety of both horse and rider, Woodbine became the first track in Canada and the second in North America, to install the revolutionary Polytrack synthetic racing surface.

2010
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh attend the Queen’s Plate.  TheQueen’s Plate is broadcast in HD (high definition) for the first time on CBC Television.

HorsePlayer Interactive (HPI), Canada’s premier by phone and online account wagering service, is launched in Quebec and is now available in every province except Manitoba.

2011
Woodbine is ranked the second safest racetrack in North America based on “average catastrophics per 1,000 races” over a three-year period (2009-2011) as part of the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database Report of 16 leading racetracks.

HorsePlayer Interactive is introduced to horseracing fans in the province of Manitoba, making the service available coast-to-coast in Canada.

2012
Ontario Lottery & Gaming (OLG) announces the termination of the Slots at Racetracks program resulting in a year of unprecedented change and uncertainty for WEG and the entire horse racing industry in Ontario.

2013
Mohawk Racetrack celebrates its 50th anniversary.  Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is on-hand to celebrate the racetrack’s milestone.

Champions Teletheatre Network celebrates its 20th anniversary.

The Pepsi North America Cup – Canada’s richest harness race celebrates its 30th anniversary and is broadcast in high definition for the first time.

2014
The Horse Racing Partnership Plan  – the Ontario government’s five-year blueprint to invest up to $500-million to support the horse racing industry in the province – is announced..

2015

Toronto City Council votes in favour of expanded gaming at Woodbine Racetrack. A memorandum of understanding is signed to build a 165,000 square foot concert and entertainment facility at Woodbine.

New synthetic thoroughbred racing surface (Tapeta) is installed at Woodbine Racetrack.

HPIbet.com re-launched with state-of-the-art technology, features, and improved usability.