Saturday is a day we pop up a lengthy post, usually about something local. Last week we did our new bet, the 4 in 48. I had written that a bit ago. I just checked my inbox and noted that I had rated the Ontario tracks awhile ago, as well, and forgot to post it. Since the 4 in 48 generated some decent discussion, maybe this will, too. What is your favourite Ontario track to lounge around and watch the races at?
You are sitting outside on a summer day. You are enjoying a beer, a hot dog and the racing. Where do you want to be sitting? Which track do you want to be at?
Those questions tend to be, more often than not, a personal preference.
For this piece we are going to rate the tracks in Ontario for live racing, based solely on my opinion. It has nothing to do with simulcasting, or stakes races, or all the rest. It is simply a score for the “fan”, the guy who heads out to the track and wants to enjoy his/her experience - the person who pays the bills.
Those that know the blog now know that we like to standardize things – come up with some numbers and weight them to give us the most dispassionate rating we can find. So that is what I did. Tracks were weighted and a score given on the following types of criteria: Sightlines, staff friendliness, proximity to the track, paddock and the action, food and amenities, entertainment between races, product & atmosphere, and the general customer experience. When we add up the score we get the Pull The Pocket Live Track Rating.
Here we go.
Georgian Downs, Innisfil, ONT. Rank 1. Score 93.0
On a summer night heading up highway 400, turning off to Georgian is never a bad idea. This is a new track and the planners who built it knew what they are doing. It is set up beautifully, it’s clean, it’s friendly and it’s 100% racetrack. The choices for food and drink are great, the staff is super-friendly and the sightlines are good. Other than no huge outdoor seating I do not see too many drawbacks. It is simply a great place to spend a night out for men, women, or families. Horsemen seem to like it too.
Perhaps a little more between-race activity in the summer months might be an idea, but other than that I can’t see too much needed from my perspective.
Are you planning to spend some time in Cottage Country? If so, make Georgian a stop. It is a must see for racing fans.
Mohawk Raceway, Campbellville, ONT. Rank: 2. Score: 92.5
Mohawk is perhaps the nicest harness track in North America. Sightlines are tremendous and the racing experience is fantastic. For those who have not been there, I suggest you hit the patio upstairs and watch a race. The big screen flashes right in front of you and the horses thunder by. Sit outside and have a drink. Stand near the wire and watch the horses parade. You can reach out and touch them.
The staff is incredibly pleasant, as well. Prices are fairly affordable.
There is very little downside to a night at Mohawk. If there is a drawback it might be food minimums upstairs, and a bit of a corporate feel that simply does not translate well to a non-urban track. It looks like a B track, acts like a B track, but it doesn’t overly feel like a B track – as much as a place like Georgian does anyway.
If you are planning to visit Mohawk for the first time may I suggest North America Cup night. It’s packed.
Grand River Raceway, Elora, ONT Rank 3. Score 91.5
Grand River is also blessed with being a new track, in a beautiful little town near Guelph. We have spoken about Grand River below in several posts (our B Track Blueprint), so there really is not much more to say.
The staff is what you expect – down home, and courteous. The racing is generally good and the drivers seem to more often than not, go all out for victory. What tends to set Grand River apart is their overall experience due to their Tarmac Show. Fans are entertained.
I have said it before but it is worth repeating: Mark your calendar in August for Industry Day – great racing and a lot of smiles. You will have a good time.
Western Fair Raceway, London, ONT Rank 4. Score: 79.0
Western Fair is under some solid management. Race secretary Ian Fleming seems to card some decent tilts. Added bonus: Frank Salive, one of the premier race callers in all of harness racing bellows out the calls.
Being an older track, and situated in a downtown area, there is not quite as much room for a B track feel, like Georgian or Grand River. They are handcuffed, but they try. That is not to say the amenities and facility are poor – they are not. Inside is quite nice, the people are friendly and I find the food pretty good. Outside you step onto the pavement and the horses are literally inches away from you. Overall it is a good experience and a place worth visiting. I enjoy it when I go.
Flamboro Downs, Flamborough, ONT Rank 5. Score: 73.5
Outside of Hamilton lies a track that has been there for some time, but it is fairly modern. They have done a fairly nice job with the grandstand, amenities and the downstairs restaurant.
You can sit outside and get food from the restaurant, have a beer, or just hang out in a fan-friendly area. It’s quite nice on a summer evening.
The sightlines are fairly good as well. You can head upstairs and see the entire race quite easily. The fan experience is not as good as Grand River, or Georgian. I think with some work, Flamboro is a track that can grow their live crowds.
Woodbine Racetrack, Toronto, ONT Rank 6 Score:73.0
We all know Woodbine: It’s clean, it’s fairly fan-friendly, and the staff seems to be nice.
But it is a thoroughbred track. It feels like one. The track is very far away from fans and the winners circle is no where in sight. I always thought for harness racing it feels like I am watching a race in a mall. It is wonderful on a summer day at the Queen’s Plate but not so wonderful on a Monday night in November for a nw2 harness race.
I can’t rate it any higher for harness racing, as much as I might want to.
Windsor Raceway, Windsor, ONT Rank 7 Score 64.0
Windsor is one tough town. It’s a car town. The track has been around awhile with it. I went to Windsor in the early 1990’s to watch one of our horses race and I did not find it too bad. I went back a couple of years ago and frankly I did not find it too bad either. But compared to Mohawk, or Georgian, it simply can not compete.
Upstairs the food and sightlines were just fine. In fact, the on track experience was fairly good. They dim the lights and you can see the track very well from the seating area. It added some excitement. Where it loses points in our rankings is pretty much everything else to do with live racing. The tarmac area is not very good. I found there really was not a great place to watch a race other than the seating in the restaurant. What Windsor has that some of the others don’t however, is competitive racing. Watch a five claimer at Windsor. You’d think it was the Breeders Crown.
I read that they were looking to build a new track in Windsor. I think that would be great. A new track like Georgian can be built for the 2000’s not the 1970’s. Windsor deserves it. There are a lot of fans in that town who support the racing.
Kawartha Downs, Peterborough, ONT Rank 8 Score: 62.5
KD is a cross between a farm track and a city track. It is a little bit older, a little less fan-friendly, a little more run down. I do have a decent time when I go there, however. I find the people nice. Hamburgers off the grill in the summer are good.
You can see all the action, but it is not overly pleasant to look at. The centre of the track has remnants of something cementy – I guess the car track. Sometimes I feel like it is a place where harness racing got in the way. It’s simply one notch below the tracks above, and more along the lines of a summer B track in terms of amenities. If you are staying at a cottage up that way in the summer, however, and looking for something to do, it makes a nice night out for some racing.