A staple of summertime in Manitoba is set to get back to action as the province slowly starts to lift COVID-19 restrictions.
The horse racing season will open on Monday evening at Assiniboia Downs.
The Winnipeg track will be the first in Canada to host live horse racing in 2020 after the sporting world hit pause back in March, delaying season-openers everywhere.
“It’s nice to lead the way, and we’re pleased to do our part in some way to continue to kick-start the Manitoba economy,” CEO Darren Dunn tells 680 CJOB.
Like any live sport that’s been able to resume across the globe, the stands will remain empty at the Downs, and Dunn anticipates a much different atmosphere.
“It’s going to be bizzare. It’s a visual sport. It’s an audio sport when you hear the hooves pounding, the crowd cheering, and the programs banging on the legs.”
The Downs will still have it’s track announcer, with Kurt Contois having been deemed one of approximately 50 essential staff.
It’s a far cry from the 10,000 people that usually attend opening day.
“At this point even the owners who are paying the freight on these horses are not on-site, so the big key is re-positioning our signal to Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday.”
The Downs usually operates on Wednesday and Friday nights as well as Saturday afternoons in a normal season.
Dunn says that repositioning allows the Downs to maintain one of its critical revenue streams.
“We’re fortunate that horse racing is one of the sports that went uninterrupted, where others are still trying to find a strategy to resume.”
Dunn says those who remain on-site during the races will have to follow strict protocols, and the Downs learned from the handful of American tracks who have remained open during the pandemic, including Florida’s Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs and Arkansas’ Oaklawn Park.
Horse racing is expected to begin in Toronto in June. Woodbine Entertainment CEO Jim Lawson announced in mid-May a plan to resume harness racing June 5 at Woodbine Mohawk Park. The 2020 thoroughbred season would begin the following day at Woodbine Racetrack. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, races at both venues would be held without spectators, likely through to September, Lawson said.
Those who are looking to watch Monday’s races at Assiniboia Downs can do so by visiting HPIbet.com and Dunn says you’ll even be able to set up an account and make a wager.
Manitoba’s Public Health guidelines say those restrictions could lift by the fall, but Dunn says that would only be a week or two before the final races of the year.
Dunn says that’s something he hopes the Downs can re-visit later on this summer.
The Downs also features a 320-seat dining room, but Dunn is still seeking clarity when it comes to reopening that part of the business during Phase Two.
“The track can’t have the public present yet, but I believe we’ve redesigned how the Terrace Dining Room would work with social distancing in mind, and we’re ready to go with that.”
–With files from the Canadian Press