Red Shores race track in Charlottetown will host races this month, much to the relief of those who rely on the harness racing industry for income, even if an audience at the track will be limited.
“It’s very good that they are trying and they are going to get racing,” says Paul Morrison, who plans to race at least three of his horses at Red Shores this season.
Harness racing isn’t Mr Morrison’s sole source of income but his winnings do contribute to covering the costs of training and caring for his horses at his stable in Cardigan.
“The industry has to carry on because horses need to be fed and exercised and that kind of thing, so it’s important to get back to racing,” says Mr Morrison.
The first qualifying race session will take place May 23.
“I really wasn’t sure whether it was going to open or not, because of the audience,” says Mr Morrison.
“Feel the thunder of hooves and the roar of the crowd,” are the first words posted on the racing portion of Red Shores’ website. To adhere to COVID-19 related public health guidelines, this experience—for now—won’t be allowed to spectators. But the track’s management team has developed an alternative option.
“People will be able to watch and bet online,” says Adam Walsh, the racing experience manager at Red Shores.
While an in-person audience adds to the atmosphere at the track, horse owners and trainers don’t expect the horses or races will be affected by a lack of spectators. They expect public health protocols and policies applied to activities in the Red Shores barn may present more immediate and challenging adjustments to handlers, drivers and owners.
“There is definitely going to be an impact that way,” says Mr Morrison. “They’ll have to be careful in the paddock because on a race night there’s 30 or 40 horses in that barn but I think people will be very conscious to follow the rules because they want to race.”
Mr Morrison expects he will be asked to follow a one person per horse rule in the barn before and after races where normally three or four people are involved in preparing a horse to race and then in caring for the horse once it crosses the finish line.
Many in the industry are waiting to see if Atlantic Sire Stakes races will be allowed this year.
He pointed out stake races feature prize money made up, at least in part, from money contributed by race participants. These races draw owners and teams from across the Maritimes and sometimes beyond.
“If there is a guy in Cape Breton who isn’t allowed to be here (because of travel restrictions),” says Mr Morrison, “you can’t hold the race.”
Two stake races have been postponed so far in Charlottetown and the industry hasn’t been able to announce when these races will be rescheduled.