Debut of Racing Night Live in Canada draws strong reviews

The first of 13 weekly broadcasts on national sports network TSN Thursday night featured both standardbred and thoroughbred from Woodbine with eye-catching visuals. “What stood out were how great the horses looked,” said WEG VP Jessica Buckley.

by Chris Lomon

For Woodbine Entertainment, Racing Night Live (RNL) is a perfect opportunity to showcase the best of both horse racing worlds.

Thursday evening marked the first of 13 RNL television broadcasts, airing on TSN3 and TSN5 [one of Canada’s national sports channels], which showcase a mix of live standardbred races from Mohawk Park in Milton, ON, and thoroughbred action from Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto.

TSN’s Laura Diakun and Woodbine Entertainment’s Jason Portuondo are the co-hosts, with Brodie Lawson and Chad Rozema contributing reports from track level.

The opening show [RNL airs from 6-8 p.m. ET] offered three standardbred dashes and a trio of thoroughbred races, the action complemented by a variety of viewer-friendly camera angles.

“What stood out were how great the horses looked,” said Jessica Buckley, WEGsenior vice-president of standardbred racing and thoroughbred racing. “The golden hour of the sun setting over both Woodbine and Woodbine Mohawk Park was spectacular. The broadcast quality and camera angles, including the drone footage from Woodbine, was a highlight. I loved the enthusiasm of everyone involved – great interviews with a focus on the racing participants, and the hosts did an excellent job setting up the show in between the live action. The Top 5 ‘Things to Know About Horse Racing’ was a great segment for new viewers.”

Although live horse racing is currently being conducted spectator-free, a scan of social media yielded several rave reviews from Ontario-based horsepeople and others.

“When any horsemen see Jessica Buckley and Jim Lawson [WEG CEO] at the track, please go up and say thank you for the wonderful job they have done not only get us back racing but for the TSN show that is amazing,” standardbred trainer Blake MacIntosh posted on Twitter and Facebook.

“What an absolutely tremendous job WEG and TSN are doing with this broadcast,” said writer, handicapper and HRU contributor Garnet Barnsdale.

Another notable moment from the premiere show included TSN’s Brian Williams interview with Lawson about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the horse racing industry and how WEG continues to operate live racing in large part due to the comprehensive health and safety protocols that have been put in place for all participants.

RNL also featured a special acoustic video performance of Canadian country music duo The Reklaws new hit single, “Where I’m From,” as a way to help raise funds and awareness for racehorse aftercare programs.

Most importantly for Canada’s biggest racetrack operator, RNL offers a welcome opportunity to attract a new audience of horseplayers, while also satiating its present fan base across the country and North America.

Those tuning in now have the ability to access the recently-launched horse racing app known as Dark Horse. The app, which utilizes artificial intelligence, was designed to simplify wagering on horse racing while allowing users to stream the races, play for free or play with cash.

“As the first professional sport to return in Canada, it is a great opportunity to showcase racing to people that love sport and competition,” said Buckley. “Woodbine is hoping to intrigue a new audience and draw them in to our great sport. Dark Horse is a gamified wagering app that helps give new bettors an edge using artificial intelligence. It’s intuitive and easy to use, and built to appeal to the sports wagering crowd. I think the show was fun for new people, and interesting coverage for our long-time racing fans too.”

Said Lawson, who took to Twitter after the show wrapped, “Bravo – cannot wait until Week 2 of Racing Night Live!”

The weekly broadcasts lead up to TSN’s airing of all three legs of the Canadian Triple Crown, including the 161st running of the Queen’s Plate, which has been rescheduled for Sept. 12.

“After seeing tonight’s show, I can’t wait for next Thursday,” said Buckley. “The teams came out strong and the show will get better and better as we go.”