Will harness racing return this year in the Maritimes without spectators on site? Yes. Will all racetracks be able to sustain themselves under this new format? Time will tell.
The impact of Covid-19 in 2020 has certainly changed the face of harness racing as we move into the summer months. In the Maritimes, the success of managing the spread of the virus in both PEI and New Brunswick has given those provinces the green light to begin live harness racing cards as early as June 4th, at Charlottetown, and June 6th at EPR. Nova Scotia did not fair as well in relation to Covid cases, and sadly also had a number of deaths, and so our season here will be a bit later starting. Like a closer from the back of the pack however, Nova Scotia has vastly reduced the number of new cases in the past week and a half, which bodes well for us to begin in the near future barring any setbacks.
As of this week's column, the latest plan, bearing final approval from provincial health officials, could be to have live racing resume in mid June at Northside, provided all Covid-19 regulations are in place, and that will include no spectators on the grounds during live cards, and enforcing rules around social distancing and personal protective equipment. With fingers crossed, we could see qualifiers here as early as June 6th.
Without being negative, but rather realistic, we have to consider the impact of not having live wagering on smaller tracks in Cape Breton and the Maritimes in general and the lack of revenue that may result. Tracks such as Northside, which has probably 25% of its wager come from HPI online, and 75% from live wagering, and Inverness, which as of last year did not offer wagering via HPI, will have to recruit bettors to the online platform in a hurry if we hope to sustain the total bet from recent years. With other racetracks returning in June across North America, there will be competition for the tracks to entice bettors from near and far to wager on our local product in all three Maritime provinces.
While small and large businesses have had options to appeal to government for financial support, I am not sure if this extends to harness racing tracks themselves. Our industry continues to need government support and hopefully our close work with government officials around re-starting racing will show government how we can operate successfully under difficult circumstances. It will be interesting to see how 2020 plays out in terms of having fans be allowed to attend or not as we move forward and the effect that regulation has on our betting dollars.
Virtual Tack Room Success
The Virtual Tack Room has been a welcome addition to Saturday evenings for the past two and a half months with many entertaining guests and lots of great insights into the lives of many of our outstanding horsepeople in the industry. Kudos to creator Kent Oakes, along with Lee Drake, Peter MacPhee and Jerry McCabe for their questions and preparation week in and week out. There has been a great deal of variety in the guests, from owners, trainers, drivers, announcers and horseracing personnel. Two transplanted Capers have been on in recent weeks: Adam Merner, who now operates a large stable in PEI, and O'Brien Rising Star award winner Dave Kelly, who races both at Century Downs in Calgary, and the new Century Mile in Edmonton. Both got their start at Northside, where they each recorded their first lifetime win!
Tartan Downs Update
In our last issue I mistakenly indicated that Tartan Downs no longer had horses training at the track. There continues to be horses on the track prepping for the 2020 season. Since our last issue, however there has been an update on the future plans CBU has for the Sydney oval.
The Cape Breton post reported last week that Cape Breton University is looking to turn the former Tartan Downs site into a ‘modern neighbourhood’ with affordable housing, student housing, community inclusion characteristics and commercial features.
The Urban Neighborhood Development Association (UNDA), in partnership with CBU, is cited as the lead organization for the development that aims to place up to 400 residential units at the 24-acre site found at Upper Prince Street, Sydney.
Expectations are for the space to be utilized for commercial uses, tenant social inclusion and professional and community services, according to the public documents. The site of the former harness raceway was originally listed for sale in June 2007 and had been made available four separate times before it was sold. The final time it was listed the property was on the market for five months before CBU purchased it for $259,500. Its original asking price was $975,000, while the land’s assessed value is $89,300.
In our June addition we will hopefully be discussing our return to track in terms of qualifiers, and prepping our readers for opening day 2020. Til then we extend to our readers good luck, good training, and most of all good health.