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O Canada, O Woodbine

by Brian Nadeau

July 1, 2017

I’m not sure exactly when bucket lists became en vogue, but it seems like everyone has one these days. If you’ve got one for race tracks, make sure Woodbine outside of Toronto is nestled closely to the top of the list. And if you’re itching for a road trip this weekend, feel free head up there in the coming days, as you won’t find a more hospitable and welcoming group, as well as one heck of a party and some top-class Thoroughbred racing too. Queen’s Plate Weekend has arrived.

I’ve been lucky enough to witness the Queen’s Plate—Canada’s answer to the Kentucky Derby—on several different occasions, both as a fan and as a working member of the racing media. This will mark the fifth time I’ve headed north of the border for some July 4th fireworks, yet it never grows old and my excitement never wanes, as it’s one of the best weekends of the year.

Woodbine itself is as beautiful a racing plant as we have in North America, from the lush, monstrously expansive turf course that actually encircles the main track (and harness track too) and is unlike anything we have in North America, to the Tapeta racing surface that will host Canada’s oldest and most premier race, run exclusively for 3-year-olds foaled in Canada, to the countless bars and eateries and great vantage points that the track has to offer. If you come to Woodbine and don’t have fun, well, you’re doing something wrong.

Queen’s Plate Day is modeled after a lot of our biggest racing days, in that it is celebrated as a huge party, not only for the equine stars it showcases, but also for the thousands of people it attracts, who will dress to the nines and drink their fair share of beer, booze and champagne. But the Churchill Downs and Pimlico infields Woodbine is not. If I blindfolded you and dropped you off, you may think you’re at Royal Ascot on the English countryside, as opposed to the Louisville and Baltimore. A tuxedo and a top hat are just as likely to pop up as jeans and a tee-shirt, or a suit and a tie, which invokes quite a bit of class into a day that can often lead to a headache Sunday morning.

As for the racing, the Queen’s Plate itself is a heck of a race, as it annually blends not only the best of Canada, but some invaders who have been foaled in the Great White North, as well as some fillies who distinguished themselves three weeks earlier in the Woodbine Oaks. It’s a fun mix, which is why the race typically gets a full, robust field, where favoritism doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot and price players often lick their chops. Toss in several other stakes and a deep and competitive racing card, and bettors have arguably the best and most lucrative day of racing until Saratoga opens.

There are plenty of things to do and celebrate on July 4th Weekend, and often the festivities at home take center stage, but if you’re looking to check off another box on your bucket list, head north to Woodbine, you won’t be disappointed.