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Western Fair Seizes The Moment

Published: October 26, 2020 10:25 am ET

Last Comment: October 26, 2020 3:27 pm ET | 1 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

It's not something that he necessarily wants to do, but Rob Lumsden, the Western Fair District's director of racing and grandstand operations, would probably be the first to point out the silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic, at least from the perspective of the London, Ontario track.

It goes without saying that nobody likes the coronavirus, and everyone wants it to go away for good. In the meantime, any positives that can be derived from the 'new normal' are more than welcome. Although the track has surely been affected by the COVID-19 fallout, The Raceway at Western Fair District has been able to expose its product to horseplayers and new fans at both ends of this surreal stretch.

Chalk it up to making the best of a bad situation.

To a varying degree, racing has deserved a bit of a break for quite some time. The expansion of gaming and the explosion of entertainment options have put racing in a dogfight for its existence, just like every other business competing in the marketplace. Surely, nobody saw this 2020 scenario coming until we were -- and still are, unfortunately -- all living it.

“I’d almost call it a perfect storm,” Rob Lumsden, the WFD's director of raceway and grandstand, has said in regard the current entertainment and gambling climate that has caused a spike in wagering on Western Fair racing. “[There are] few other entertainment options, a renewed interest from people in the horse racing product, and new eyeballs that had not experienced it before and have tuned in. We’re doing quite well because of it.

“People have seen it, enjoyed it, and it’s something you can do at home (watch and wager on racing) in a safe environment,” Lumsden continued, during his recent discussion with The London Free Press.

A field of Standardbreds passes the grandstand during a pre-COVID-19 tilt at The Raceway at Western Fair District.

Earlier this year, just prior to live racing being shut down in London due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Western Fair hosted an 11-race card on March 18. 'The Raceway' enjoyed its highest-ever single-card wagering turnover, with $992,536 bet on the card. The previous single-card handle record at the London, Ont. racetrack had been set on December 31, 2019, when wagering totalled $795,590. The all-time high handle figure on March 18 was buoyed by a pair of Pick-4 pools which attracted a combined $70,049.

Speaking of multi-leg wagers, Western Fair introduced a new Pick-5 wager (on Race 1) when it kicked off its meet earlier this month. Horseplayers have flocked to the bet, and, in response, Western Fair has added a second Pick-5 wager (on Race 6) to its betting slate as of tonight (Monday, Oct. 26 -- to view a free TrackIT program for the card, click here).

Operating through the pandemic is an alien experience. Nothing is exactly how it used to be, but Western Fair -- and the North American racing industry, generally -- has shown its ability to adapt to the conditions and keep the product rolling.

Western Fair is now allowing a limited amount of customers on its premises during race nights. Following consultation with the Public Health Unit, the decision was made to open only the Top of The Fair restaurant to patrons during live racing. Dining is available during race dates, but it is limited to 150 patrons to ensure physical distancing is in place. All other areas of the grandstand remain closed and Western Fair remains closed for simulcasting. For more information, click here.

“It’s nice to have a few people back, but it’s not what we hope to get to in the future,” Lumsden told The London Free Press. “As much as we are doing quite well right now, we miss our core group of fans and look forward to a time when it’s safe to bring them back.”

(With files from The London Free Press)

October 26, 2020 - 3:27 pmSmart management decisions

terry gudz SAID...

Smart management decisions and a outstanding race caller drives the handle.

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