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Hennessy Hopeful For Racing's Return

Published: May 2, 2021 11:06 am ET

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Like many Standardbred horsepeople in western Canada, trainer and driver Rod Hennessy has weathered a particularly rough five months since harness racing in Alberta was put on hold. However, with optimistic developments on the front of racing returning to the prairie province — albeit, without on-track spectators and still under strict protocols — there's reason for Hennessy to be optimistic about returning to action in the coming weeks.

"Century Downs has been a very good place for me," Hennessy, who began racing horses in his native Alberta when he was 14 and has competed on the Alberta-Saskatchewan circuit for his entire life since, said in a recent Beyond the Backstretch segment produced by the Alberta Standardbred Horse Association. "I won the very first race there (in 2015), and I've been very successful at this track. It's been very good to me."

Despite his success at Century Downs, the uncertainty brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic has created difficulty, especially when horsepeople are reliant on the ability to race for purse money in order to sustain their livelihoods. And while a planned break in the schedule is something one can plan for, a five-month shutdown is a different scenario altogether.

"Ever since COVID hit, it's been extremely tough on everybody on the backstretch. Horse racing is a lot like dairy farming — you just can't lay your help off because there's no income coming from the horses; they've got to be looked after. With no certain race dates, we've all had to keep our horses somewhat fit, which is a big expense to all the partners and owners, and there's nothing we can do. We didn't know on Dec. 11 that we were going to be off until sometime in May, so we were training horses to bet them ready for maybe a six-week break, and we found out after six weeks it would be some more time ... The bills have rolled up completely."

Given that expenditures have not changed despite the lack of income opportunities, Hennessy is grateful that the ASHA has stepped up to offer support to their membership as best as possible, and he remains hopeful that an imminent return to racing can help him — and many other horsepeople in Alberta — get back to the lives and livelihoods they've enjoyed for generations.

"We've had some great help from our association on the feed bills for some of the horses — anybody that needed help, they brought feed and you got a discounted price. Our association's done everything they can do to help us on the COVID end of it, but we're still getting, basically, not heard through the government end of it. We don't need a lot; we just need a little hand."

The entire piece appears below:

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