At Kingston: Greenwood Off Track Wagering
They race horses, don't they?
As a matter of fact, they do. Just not here — or not anymore.
Here is a hulking, brick-walled edifice that still dominates the corner of Queen St. East and Kingston Rd., overlooking a prosperous residential development where there used to be a racetrack.
For more than 100 years, until it closed down in the mid-1990s, this was the site of one of Canada's premier testing grounds for equine velocity, latterly known as Greenwood Raceway.
A portion of the old grandstand remains, and it now contains (a) a gymnasium, (b) a multi-screen cinema, and (c) what now goes by the name of Greenwood Off Track Wagering.
A racetrack it is not. Still, it's a place that allows people to have fun and lose money, both at the same time, which is pretty much what a racetrack does.
"Sometimes I come with $200," says Ronald Coley, 71, a retired bulldozer operator originally from Jamaica. "I don't go home with nothing."
Not that he seems to mind.
"I come to gamble," he explains.
Losing money is just part of the deal.
"We see horse racing as an entertainment product," says Jane Holmes, a spokesperson for Woodbine Entertainment Group, which owns the Greenwood facility along with several other related properties in and around Toronto, including the Woodbine and Mohawk Racetracks — places where parimutuel betting involves the presence of real live horses.
At Greenwood, you get television screens, more than 400 of them, arrayed in rows around a massive indoor arena that could almost be mistaken for the world's largest airport departure lounge — with seating for 1,000 and a total capacity of 2,500 — except that no one seems to be departing.
Besides, the carpeted floors of an airport departure lounge are not littered with hundreds of discarded white ticket stubs, all tossed away by horse-racing enthusiasts after they got another bet wrong.
There are many ways to make bets here — wagers to win, place or show, as well as more complicated affairs known as daily doubles, exactors and triactors, to name just a few of the many ways to risk money on horses.
And not just Canadian horses, either.
In addition to local racecourses, the Greenwood facility receives video feeds from tracks across North America, not to mention Australia, South Africa, and Dubai.
For serious handicappers — those who crave complete quiet as they pore over copies of the Daily Racing Form, diligently comparing the records of jockeys, horses, trainers — Greenwood has a special area set aside with private desks, each equipped with its own miniature TV screen.
Other bettors favour less formal ways of dropping a bundle.
"We have people who bet on a horse because they like the name," says Holmes. "I don't know how well they do."
Take a guess.
Most of the patrons at Greenwood on a chilly autumn Sunday afternoon are male, most closer to retirement age than to the age of majority.
Usually the place is curiously hushed, but that can change very quickly when the hard-charging field in an important race rounds into the homestretch on TV.
Suddenly, at least some of the bettors are up on their feet, some beating their legs with rolled up copies of the Racing Form, almost as if they were jockeys themselves, flashing their whips during the frantic free-for-all to the finish line, where the mounting excitement suddenly dissipates into a long sigh of collective disappointment, mixed with groans and the odd discreet profanity.
But soon it's on to the next race, and the next chance to win. Or lose.
"I probably be down," says Coley, the former bulldozer operator, estimating his fortunes on the day so far.
But he isn't here to get rich. He's here to gamble.
For more than 100 years, until it closed down in the mid-1990s, this was the site of Greenwood Raceway. The racetrack is gone, but it's still a place that allows people to have fun and lose money.
OAKLAND ROSS PHOTO
At Greenwood Off Track Wagering, more than 400 television screens are arrayed in rows around a massive indoor arena.
OAKLAND ROSS PHOTO
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