Dan Vella (Michael Burns photo)
By Mark McKelvie – Woodbine Communications
TORONTO— Woodbine Entertainment today announced the addition of Sovereign Award and Queen’s Plate winning trainer Dan Vella as Horse People Liaison.
Vella joins Woodbine in this new position following a training career that spanned several decades, compiling over 800 wins and $39 million in earnings.
“Dan is a highly regarded figure on our backstretch that has his finger on the pulse of our racing community,” said Jim Lawson, CEO, Woodbine Entertainment. “Having the ability to add someone like Dan, who has spent over 50 years on our backstretch and enjoyed success at our highest levels, is a big boost for our stakeholder relationships.”
Leveraging his decades of racing experience, Vella will be a point of contact for owners and trainers as it relates to opportunities and feedback regarding race conditions, track surface matters, backstretch maintenance, equine safety and race day logistics. Vella will report into the Director of Racing.
“I am so excited to have this opportunity to work for Woodbine and continue to be involved in the industry and sport that has given me so much,” said Vella. “I have had the privilege of racing throughout North America and I can say firsthand that Woodbine is a top racetrack operator that has incredibly passionate and talented horse people – all of which contributes to some of the best thoroughbred racing on the continent. I am really looking forward to working with the hardworking and dedicated management team at Woodbine, while also having the opportunity to work with horse people throughout the backstretch that I respect and admire.”
The original introduction to Woodbine for Vella began as a teenager in 1972. Becoming a groom shortly after, Vella groomed Fabe Count in the 1973 Canadian International, famously known as Secretariat’s final race.
Cutting his teeth on the Woodbine backstretch, Vella eventually launched a successful training career, working for top owners such as Steve Stavro and Frank Stronach. His first stakes victory came in 1985 with Bert James in the Sir Barton Stakes.
Vella spent 1993 to 1998 training for Stronach, primarily racing in the United States. It was during this time that Vella reached the pinnacle of Canadian racing, winning the 1994 Queen’s Plate with Basqueian.
Finding continued success at Woodbine during that timeframe, Vella won the Sovereign Award as Canada’s outstanding trainer in 1994 and 1995.
After parting ways with Stronach Stables, Vella remained in the United States before returning to Woodbine in 2003.
In 2012, Vella captured his second Queen’s Plate title with Strait of Dover.
In recent years, Vella has continued to collect stakes victories at Woodbine. The Minkster scored a stakes double for the veteran conditioner in 2021, winning the Coronation Futurity and Queenston Stakes, before running in last year’s Queen’s Plate. Rookie filly Jumpin Junie delivered his final stakes victory in October’s Princess Elizabeth.
Vella was elected to the HBPA Board of Directors in 2021 for a three-year term. However, Vella recently resigned from its Board.
Vella will begin his new role on April 1, 2023