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Canadian Racing's Return In Limelight

Published: May 18, 2020 6:35 pm ET

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Not only is horse racing going to be the 'only game in town' for a while when it returns across Canada in the coming weeks, but the very fact it is the first major sport to get back to action is making quite a splash in the mainstream media.

This coming Monday (May 25), Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg will host the first major sporting event in Canada since the onset of the novel coronavirus, and the very fact that the opening of a racetrack typically known but to locals and hardcore bettors was profiled by CTV News speaks to its unique noteworthiness in a unique time.

Darren Dunn, chief executive officer of Assiniboia said that he and his staff are "excited" to be the "first in Canada to open," adding that they "have the protocols in place to do it."

Those protocols, including significant reduction in backstretch personnel and strict physical distancing procedures, are also being implemented at Standardbred tracks across the country that are gearing up to return to action in the coming weeks. Trainers, grooms, drivers and jockeys are permitted on backstretches, however owners who do not participate in an essential, hands-on capacity must stay away for the time being.

"The jockeys will have to wear masks from the time they leave their dressing room all the way to the time they leave the starting gate," said Jim Lawson, CEO of Woodbine, which has actively been been readying its facilities — at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto and Woodbine Mohawk Park in nearby Campbellville, Ont. — and respective staffs for racing's resumption.

"They have a tough time not being able to come and see their horses they’ve invested time and money in, but we are doing it for the betterment of everyone involved, trying to keep it safe," said trainer Shelley Brown.

While professional hockey, basketball and baseball leagues in North America remain in the planning stages of resuming action, horse racing is poised to burst out of the gate, albeit in front of empty grandstands and with bettors watching via television or live streams and placing their wagers via online outlets.

Two harness tracks have established opening dates for the week after Assiniboia opens: Red Shores at Charlottetown Driving Park is set to resume racing on June 4, with Mohawk to follow on June 5.

(with files from CTV News)

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