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Finding Strength In Dark Times

Published: April 2, 2020 7:15 pm ET

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Caretakers are the backbone of the harness racing industry. Despite everything going on with COVID-19, our caretakers are still the ones who wake up early in the morning and put our racehorses first, before anything else they will do that day for themselves.

With racing across Canada suspended until further notice because of the viral outbreak, owners, breeders, drivers, trainers and caretakers have all been affected, and in some cases, caretakers have been laid off.

Fortunately for Ben Hollingsworth, he's been able to secure his job with trainer Rod Boyd. However, he has still felt the COVID-19 effects.

“This whole thing has really affected everyone, but for us caretakers, paddocking at night is our extra income that we no longer have anymore," Hollingsworth told Trot Insider. "A lot of caretakers pay bills with their weekly pay and after that anything extra we need comes from our paddock money. There are a lot of caretakers who really depend on that extra couple hundred dollars a week.”

The longtime caretaker, who has worked for the best of the best in our industry, finds that it is not just the financial aspects of COVID-19 but the social aspect as well.

“A lot of us race four to five nights a week and sometimes that's really the only time we get to see our friends - at the races. Now, we can’t see one another and have not seen one another. It's tough. You go to work in the morning and you go straight home and you stay home. It’s crazy how small your circle gets. The social aspect of this whole thing is really as tough as the financial part.

"I moved here from Nova Scotia at a young age to race horses, and I don't have any family in Ontario so your friends become your family.”

Hollingsworth feels the effects as a trainer as well. His trainee Yoooukilis was entered to race Friday, March 20 at Woodbine Mohawk Park - the first night that live harness racing was cancelled at Mohawk.

“I just have one horse on the side that I also rely on for extra money and the night he was in to go he was the morning line favourite to win and they cancelled the races. They’ve announced that those horses entered on those nights get $300 and that’s great that they are doing they’re part to do what they can to help the horseman but on the other hand you still think about how you could have maybe made $3,000 or even $6,000 had he won.”

Ben Hollingsworth and friends celebrate a win with Yoooukilis and driver Jody Jamieson at Woodbine Mohawk Park this past September.

So how does one stay optimistic through dark times?

“You just have to look at the situation and say to yourself that this has to be done. Sure, we would all like to be racing but the only way we will get back racing is if we all do our part to self isolate and flatten the curve of this thing. But I do hope that something comes out about how caretakers are going to be helped out as well because a lot of people have been laid off from their jobs and all of us are losing a lot of money the same as drivers, trainers, owners and everyone else. We may not be losing the same amounts of money as they are but it is a lot of money to us.”

The speculation also continues as to what the harness racing industry will look like when the day comes to start racing again.

“The hardest part about this whole thing is that no one knows how long we will be out for. People don't really know what to do with their horses. I think when we start back racing again there's going to be a lot less horses around. There are horses that are being sent to be broodmares instead of paying for them to be in a stall until further notice. There are a lot of small stables that might not be able to make it through this either and we’ll lose their entries every week as well. The uncertainty is going to disable a lot of people.

"Our industry is full of strong people, and I hope we can all help each other along the way and come out of this whole nightmare stronger than we were before.”

While the industry faces such uncertain times, Hollingsworth agrees that it's imperative to stay positive and stay safe.

(Photos courtesy of New Image Media)

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