Lawson details plans for new million-dollar race at Mohawk

Woodbine CEO Jim Lawson talks about trying to establish a new $1 million (U.S.) Pegasus-style race at Woodbine Mohawk Park where owners pay $110,000 U.S. for each of nine slots, with a 10th slot going to the winner of the William Wellwood Memorial. The idea picks up on the Red Mile Million concept that didn’t quite get off the ground.

by Dave Briggs

Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) CEO Jim Lawson said he hopes a new million-dollar race for 2-year-old trotters will be both “great for horsepeople” and another opportunity for Woodbine Mohawk Park to show its deep commitment to horse racing.

On Thursday afternoon, WEG announced its intention to stage the inaugural Mohawk Million in September or October of 2020 at Woodbine Mohawk Park.

“We’re doing everything we can with the Breeders Crown this year and with the new paddock to establish Woodbine Mohawk Park as the center of the harness racing world,” Lawson told HRU on Thursday. “We think we’re making great strides in that direction and this really puts us at the center of the 2 year old trotting world offering a race like this, so it’s exciting. I think it’s great for the horsepeople.”

Since the $1 million purse will be in U.S. dollars, the Mohawk Million would surpass the $1 million (Cdn) Pepsi North America Cup as the richest harness race in Canada.

Lawson said the Mohawk Million will be the pinnacle of a summer and fall stakes season at Mohawk Park worth some $4 million. He said he hopes the Mohawk Million will be one more way to attract the world’s best horses to Ontario, particularly younger trotters.

“I think it just opens up some doors for people to want to come to Ontario and bring horses here which is what we’re all about,” Lawson said. “This is going to be a really attractive program through the end of the summer and into early October and should make us the centerpiece for 2-year-old trotters maybe in the world. I think you’re going to see interest in this from Europe.”

Driving interest in trotting yearlings is the reason WEG decided to announce its intention to stage the Mohawk Million now, prior to the biggest standardbred yearling sales.

“The point (of announcing this now) was partly to help all those breeders convince some owners to get involved with the major sales,” he said.

Whether the Mohawk Million is staged, or not, will depend on whether enough owners are game to pony up $110,000 (U.S.) for a single slot on the starting gate. Nine of the slots will be available for purchase.

“I am confident and hopeful people will buy those nine spots. Those people are buying an entry fee that will be in demand from anyone who develops a good young trotter,” Lawson said. “We’ve been over it, we’ve discussed it with some local people and we think there’s some local interest. We think there’s going to be interest in Europe… There’s only nine (spots). I think it’ll create some buzz this weekend with some people and I think we’re going to start hearing from people very quickly that they’re interested in it and we’re just working out the details of the rules.”

A 10th and final spot will be given for free to the winning connections of the 2020 William Wellwood Memorial for 2-year-old trotters.

“Giving an opportunity for the winner of the Wellwood to get a free pass into what will be a $1 million race is exciting for the small stables and owners of all sizes,” Lawson said, adding that it should be a tremendous boost to entries in the Wellwood itself.

Each slot in the Mohawk Million is an entity and may be sold, traded or leased. The purchaser of the slot does not have to declare a horse for the Mohawk Million until time of entry.

All nine purchased contracts must be received by February 17, 2020 or the event will not proceed, and entry fees will be returned. If more than nine purchased contracts are received, a draw for the nine slots will take place before February 28, 2020.

No trainer will be permitted to race more than two horses in the Mohawk Million. Any trainer changes made for the purpose of the two-horse limit must be made at least 21 days prior to the race.

Final rules and conditions for the ‘Mohawk Million’ will be available in the coming weeks.

The Hambletonian Society had previously spearheaded a plan for a similar $1 million race for 2-year-old trotters to be held at Lexington, KY’s Red Mile (full story here), but a date conflict forced organizers to put the race on hold (2018-11-06 edition – page 11). Lawson said WEG is going it alone on the Mohawk Million, but has had the offer of marketing money from the Central Ontario Standardbred Association (COSA) and received support from Hambletonian Society president John Campbell.

“I had a conversation with John Campbell this morning about it and they’re very supportive,” Lawson said. “This concept started with them.”

Lawson said the Mohawk Million is just one part of trying to make improvements at Woodbine Mohawk Park on many fronts.

“We think we have a great program. Since we moved full time to Mohawk it’s been our goal and intention to say, ‘We have the best racing in North America.’ This is just a continuation of trying to create that really strong racing program and also for us to be innovative in every way with technology with our program just thinking a little differently,” Lawson said.

“I think we’re going to try some new things this fall — not to get into that today — but you’re going to see some different things that are going to make racing at Mohawk interesting this fall and that’s all with the view to being innovative and helping the sport of horse racing.”

– with files from Mark McKelvie / Woodbine communications