Lethbridge’s Rocky Mountain Turf Club is getting back into action this weekend as it reopens its doors to hold its first live horse racing event of the year.
Even though the COVID-19 pandemic is reducing the centre’s racing season to just six weeks, the owners of the venue say the horse racing community is staying positive by leaning on one another.
Rose Rossi, the general manager of the Rocky Mountain Turf Club, says the horse racing community in Lethbridge had already begun training horses for what would have been the first horse racing event of the year in March. However, that event never went forward because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So, everybody was quite displaced… just in Lethbridge there’s over 1,000 licensed horsemen, a lot of families and people, that’s their jobs,” she said.
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Rossi said the club normally contributes $48 million to the local economy every year. This year, Rossi’s not sure whether they’ll see more or less bets placed due to the pandemic, but they are hoping for the best possible scenario.
People can go online to thehorses.com to place their bets.
Rossi said only 200 people will be allowed in the venue at a time, in keeping with health and safety regulations set out by the Alberta government for arenas.
People can also go online to watch live streams of the races.
Rossi said spectators can also expect to see some COVID-19-inspired changes at the venue.
“The upstairs will not be open, so the rooms with a view are a no-go, but we do have the main floor, the outside, the grandstand,” she said.
Hand sanitizer stations will be available throughout the venue and physical distancing rules will also apply.
The jockeys aren’t the only ones that have been getting restless. Chase Oberholtzer, a horse groomer with the Rocky Mountain Turf Club, said some of the horses certainly appear to miss competing.
“They’re pretty intelligent animals,” Oberholtzer said. “They know when they’re here opposed to elsewhere, at home, or at an arena or whatever… they know when they’re at the racetrack.”
The club says despite not partaking in races, the horses have still been able to train and do laps around the track in order to help keep them active.
Costs associated with maintaining horses are expected to rise during the upcoming months.
“Those horses and our backs stretch, everything is regulatory, they’re well-kept, there’s vets,” Rossi said.
“There’s… feeding them and training, and all those things come with costs.”
However, Rossi said the club is hoping the next month and a half will help them stabilize their business and stay afloat.