TORONTO — The COVID-19 pandemic will result in the Queen's Plate being pushed back for a second straight year.
A source said Monday this year's race will be run Sunday Aug. 22 instead of its traditional date of late June due to the novel coronavirus.
Last year's race was originally scheduled for June 27 but Woodbine Entertainment later rescheduled its marquee race and opening event of the OLG Canadian Triple Crown to Sept. 12 before no spectators at Woodbine Racetrack.
In fact, no fans were allowed to all three legs of the Triple Crown, which includes the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie Racetrack and the Breeders' Stakes at Woodbine.
The source spoke on the condition of anonymity as Woodbine Entertainment has yet to announce its plans for this year's Queen's Plate.
Staging the Plate on a Sunday would be unique because it has traditionally been held on a Saturday. And while the Queen's Plate is North America's oldest continuously run event, it's much more just a horse race as Woodbine stages a festival around it that includes outdoor concerts and numerous social functions.
Queen Elizabeth II is the patron of the Plate, having last attended in 2010. The race itself dates back to 1860.
The global pandemic forced the various events associated with the '20 Queen's Plate to be cancelled. But the hope is that by August, enough Canadians will have received a COVID-19 vaccine to allow some to attend this year's race at Woodbine Racetrack.
The later start date would also be beneficial for Canadian trainers, many of whom are staying home this winter rather than heading south to condition horses at American tracks. Running the Plate in August would allow conditioners to race their horses in prep events and be better prepared leading up the Plate, which covers 1 1/4 miles on Woodbine's synthetic surface.
It's a move trainer Kevin Attard would definitely support.
"I think it gives everybody a fair chance," said Attard, who conditioned '20 Woodbine Mile champion Starship Jubilee. "I can see the reason behind it, it makes sense to me.
"Let's put it this way: If the race is in June and your horse isn't really training somewhere within probably the next 30 days, it becomes a real difficult task. To me, I think the key is that information needs to be passed on sooner than later just to give everybody an opportunity to do right by the horse."
The expectation is Woodbine will announce its 2021 Queen's Plate plans sometime this week.
Woodbine's '20 thoroughbred card was originally slated to open in April but was pushed back roughly seven weeks due to the pandemic. Woodbine was forced to end racing at Woodbine Racetrack in November — some three weeks ahead of schedule — after horse racing was put on the restricted list as per the province's COVID-19 response.
With the Plate scheduled for Aug. 22, both the Plate Trial and Woodbine Oaks -- two key prep races -- will be held some three weeks prior at Woodbine Racetrack. And the Prince of Wales Stakes will likely be held in mid-September, followed by the Breeders' Stakes sometime in early October.
Attard would usually be training horses at Florida's Gulfstream Park but remains in Ontario due to the pandemic. As a precaution, he made arrangements for an indoor track just in case the Plate was run in June.
"In an ideal world, you want to be training after a little bit of down time, depending on the kind of campaign (a horse has) had at two,' Attard said. "Had I thought COVID was going to hit and the Queen's Plate was going to be run in September in 2020, I would've done a few things differently with some of my two-year-olds turning three at that time."
Woodbine is targeting April 17 as the start date for its 2021 thoroughbred card.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 11, 2021.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press