A long-time tradition, Woodbine Racetrack will play host to its final Boxing Day matinee of live harness racing on Tuesday.
With Standardbred racing set to transition to its new year-round home at Mohawk Park in April, Tuesday’s Boxing Day card at Woodbine will have a little extra meaning. The tradition of the Boxing Day matinee in Toronto dates back many years from Greenwood to Woodbine and is filled with a rich history.
"It was one of the most anticipated cards each year," recalls Scott McKelvie, Woodbine Standardbred Race Secretary. "Boxing Day at the track was the place to be and the wagering and attendance numbers proved it."
For many years, a lack of entertainment options on the day following Christmas allowed harness racing in the city to benefit from having its doors open.
A Boxing Day memory that sticks out to McKelvie was the 1981 card at Greenwood, which featured a 2-year-old named Cam Fella winning the Valedictory Series. More than 14,000 people were in attendance that day and caught a glimpse of the horse that would go on to be dubbed "The Pacing Machine."
Boxing Day racing not only meant a lot to fans and horseplayers, but also those that were competing on the track. McKelvie noted that horsepeople showed plenty of enthusiasm for the Boxing Day card, knowing the large attendance and big dollars it would attract.
"At one point it was our biggest day of the year and did better numbers than our biggest stakes."
Wagering numbers on Boxing Day have held strong over the years, but the numbers prior to the simulcast era are impressive. Handles of more than $2 million were regular for Boxing Day and that carried over to Woodbine when harness racing moved to the Rexdale oval in 1994.
The Woodbine Boxing Day cards have had their fair share of top performers find the winner’s circle, including millionaires D M Dilinger (1996), Our Lucky Killean (2004, 2010), Snazzy Millie (2005), Armbro Animate (2005), Tigerama (2005), Abbey Road C (2007), Chick N Tell (2008), San Pail (2008, 2009), Alexie Mattosie (2009), Voelz Hanover (2010) and Mister Herbie (2011).
This year’s Boxing Day card will feature a 12-race program, highlighted by the finals of the Niagara for sophomore pacing fillies (race five) and Valedictory Series for sophomore pacing colts and geldings (race nine). The current versions of these series have been used as launching pads to success in 4-year-old seasons and beyond by many past winners.
Mares Preferred competitor Witch Dali is a notable graduate of the Niagara. The now 6-year-old entered the 2014 Niagara Series with just over $40,000 in career earnings. She proceeded to sweep the series and has since gone on to increase her career earnings to $400,000.
Full fields of 10 will compete in the Niagara and Valedictory finals on Tuesday.
While Tuesday’s card will be the final Boxing Day matinee at Woodbine, the tradition of afternoon racing on Dec. 26 is expected to continue when year-round Standardbred racing moves to Mohawk Park in April.
Post time for Tuesday’s Boxing Day card is 1 p.m.