When Jessica Buckley was promoted to Woodbine’s senior vice-president of standardbred and thoroughbred racing at the start of 2020, she instantly became one of the most influential people in thoroughbred racing in Canada; her recent work in the standardbred industry as president of the harness-only Woodbine Mohawk Park.
In her time as president, Buckley oversaw the completion of a $6 million paddock expansion, improvements to the grandstand and food services, successfully played host to Breeders Crown weekend in 2019 and helped launch a new $1 million Pegasus-style standardbred race called the Mohawk Million that will debut in 2020.
The daughter of late Hall of Fame breeder and long-time Woodbine director Bob Anderson and the brother of thoroughbred breeder David Anderson (profiled on pg 24), Buckley has held a variety of positions in the racing industry over the last 25 years. In 1994, she was hired fresh out of university to help launch Woodbine’s Horseplayer Interactive account wagering division. She left Woodbine to help Magna Entertainment launch account wagering platform Xpressbet in California in 2001 but returned to Woodbine nine years later. Before becoming the Woodbine Mohawk Park president in 2017, Buckley was WEG’s vice-president of community relations and corporate affairs.
Through it all, she has maintained a deep love for the horse, first stoked growing up at Anderson Farms in St. Thomas.
“Having an understanding of the game, whether it’s thoroughbred or standardbred, she’s going to be able to talk at the same level as the horsemen, and I think that’s really needed in our sport,” her brother David said in 2017 when she became president of Woodbine Mohawk Park. “I think we’ve gotten away from that a bit with some executives, and she’s got both – the horse background and she’s got the boardroom skills.”
What are the most critical challenges facing the industry in Canada today?
“With the Long Term funding deal, we are in a good place regarding purse money and (Return On Investment) ROI, but wagering is still key to driving needed revenues. The most critical challenge is horse supply. Large field size drives wagering and is the key to our future success.”
What needs to change about the industry in the next 5-10 years?
“Fixed-odds wagering needs to be added to the mix for horse racing to stay relevant in a world where sports betting will be legalized. This and other new revenues will continue to grow purses and attract owners.”
How can you help affect that change?
“Continuing to lobby the federal and provincial governments to insist horse racing be a participant and beneficiary of any future sports wagering business in Canada.”
Where do you see the thoroughbred industry in Canada in 10 years?
“I have a positive outlook, as the Woodbine team are developing sustainable options to create meaningful revenues with land development, sports wagering and international wagering growth to help grow racing in Ontario for many years to come.”