Veteran jockey Stein looks forward to a full 2022 Woodbine race schedule

Jockey Justin Stein celebrates his victory on the Dover Strait horse in the 153rd Queen’s Plate race at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto on June 24, 2012.Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Canadian Press

It’s been a while since veteran jockey Justin Stein could really look forward to a full season of racing at Woodbine Racetrack.

The global pandemic forced starts in 2020 and 2021 to be pushed back. On Saturday, Woodbine will open its first full season of racing since 2019 with 133 dates scheduled through December 11.

“I’m very excited to get started,” Stein, who captured the ’12 Queen’s Plate aboard the Dover Strait, said during a video conference on Wednesday. “I feel like I’m mentally prepared for the longevity of the season that we have here because it’s routine.

“We are going to race two and a half months longer than the last two years, but all the riders I know are excited to race. We do it because we love it, above all”.

The 2022 schedule offers more than $16.9 million in classic events. Includes 37 graded bets and two $1 million races: The Queen’s Plate (Aug 21) and Ricoh Woodbine Mile (Sep 17).

The 2021 season was a decent one for Stein. The 42-year-old New Westminster, BC native ranked second among Woodbine jockeys in earnings (over $4.49 million), third in starts (555) and fourth in wins (78).

One of his wins came aboard the filly Munnyfor Ro in the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks, the inaugural event of the Canadian Triple Tiara series.

Stein expects to have three or four mounts on Saturday and is more than prepared for whatever conditions Mother Nature throws her way this spring. The forecast for the opening day calls for a maximum temperature of 8 C with an 80 percent chance of rain.

“I’m a good Canadian, I know how to dress for the weather,” Stein said. “I just consider it another aspect of racing.

“We work outside.”

But riders aren’t the only ones looking forward to a full season. So are trainers Kevin Attard and Josie Carroll.

“The last two years of the pandemic have caused a lot of chaos,” Attard said. “Even trying to groom and groom the horses.

“This year, obviously, we have to deal with Mother Nature a little bit…but for the most part we’re already set and ready to go.”

Carroll, a three-time Plate champion (2006 with Edenwold, 2011 with filly Inglorious, 2020 with Mighty Heart), couldn’t agree more.

“The last two years we have come back with horses ready to race… only to find that our season has been greatly delayed,” he said. “It has been very, very difficult to keep the horses at their peak for two months before they could race.

“This year we come back and we have our regular season. It just takes a lot of pressure off.”

Attard finished second among Woodbine trainers last year in earnings (more than $3.56 million) and starts (340) and third in wins (55). One of his wins came via Munnyfor Ro at the Oaks.

Attard said the filly is currently in the US and the plan is for her to start south of the border before returning to Woodbine.

“Obviously we’re looking forward to bringing her back here,” Attard said. “She had a wonderful campaign last year.

“I have seen photos and videos of her and she seems to have grown and filled out. There’s a lot of maturity that seems to have developed with her.”

The Queen’s Plate will kick off the Canadian Triple Crown, which will also include the $400,000 Prince of Wales Stakes (September 13 at Fort Erie Racecourse) and the $400,000 Breeders’ Stakes (October 2 at Woodbine). Wando remains the last horse to win all three stages, achieving the feat in 2003.

The $500,000 Woodbine Oaks and $150,000 Plate Trial, two key Plate build-up events, will kick off on July 24.

The Queen’s Plate has traditionally been held in early summer, but Attard likes to start later.

“With the Plate in late June or early July, if you weren’t trained for the winter or even started in the winter, then you were against it,” he said. “This way, even if you have a three-year-old not starting at the moment who for some reason had some setbacks when he was a junior… you still have a chance now with an August start to make it to the Plate.”

Carroll again echoed those sentiments.

“You love the history of the plate and where it was placed all the years we made it,” he said. “But I have to say that moving it later in the season, I think, benefits a lot of the Canadian horses that might be a little behind and couldn’t compete over the winter.

“I think it gives a lot more owners and trainers the opportunity to run in it.”

Carroll, a member of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, will open the season with just six wins to reach 900 in his illustrious career.

“It seems like it happened in the blink of an eye,” Carroll said. “I’ve been so lucky to have so many nice hoses over the years that I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for so long.”