Dresden Raceway to open season June 7 without spectators

The harness racing season will begin at Dresden Raceway on Sunday, June 7, with no fans in the stands.

Horses make their way down the stretch during racing at Dresden Raceway on Sunday, July 30, 2017. DAVID GOUGH/COURIER PRESS/Postmedia Services

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The harness racing season will begin at Dresden Raceway next month with no fans in the stands.

It’s unknown when – or if – spectators will be allowed this year, but they can’t attend opening day Sunday, June 7.

“It really would be nice to get fans back, but one step at a time,” track spokesperson Gary Patterson said.

Horse racing is among the sports allowed to restart in the first stage of the Ontario government’s plan for reopening businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dresden Raceway will hold qualifiers May 31 before the nine-card season starts the following week. The first two dates on its race schedule in May have already been cancelled.

“It’s exciting to actually be racing because a lot of people didn’t think we were going to race this year,” Patterson said.

Fans can watch races and bet online at dresdenraceway.ca.

Safety precautions will be in place in the barns and the backstretch on race days. Only one person will be allowed with each horse. No one under 17 years old can enter.

“We just don’t want to get too many people back there,” Patterson said.

No one with a temperature above 38 C can enter. All visitors must take a questionnaire on such topics as their travel history and COVID-19 symptoms.

Masks and physical distancing are mandatory while hand-washing stations and hand sanitizers will be availalbee at each barn.

Horses can’t be in stalls directly beside or across from each other.

Horses for only one race rather than three will be kept in the pre-race marshalling area.

Fundraisers have been cancelled but may be rescheduled if fans are allowed.

“Toward the end of last year, we were getting upwards of 1,000 fans,” Patterson said.

Races will also be held June 14, 21 and 28, and July 5, 12, 19 and 23 before the season finale on the civic holiday Monday, Aug. 3. All other cards are on Sundays except for Thursday, July 23, which was supposed to kick off the now-cancelled Dresden Exhibition.

“It’s a good feeling, for the horse people especially, because these folks work hard … and the horses are literally athletes. It’s going to be good for the horses to be racing, too,” Patterson said

He praised the lobbying efforts of Lambton-Kent––Middlesex MPP Monte McNaughton, Mayor Darrin Canniff and North Kent Coun. Jamie McGrail.

“It’s exciting, and it’s good for Dresden because ,even though there’s not going to be fans, it’s good to have the money start to flow again,” Patterson said. “Economically speaking, it’ll be good for the community and for the town because hopefully people coming through or on their way out, they’ll buy a pizza, they’ll stop by Subway or Tim Hortons, and spend a little bit.”

Ontario Racing was offering some financial relief to horse people during the pandemic, “but it was nowhere near what they can earn. … At least it helped pay some of the bill,”  Patterson said.

The Mark Austin Pacing Series is still on Dresden’s schedule. The first leg is slated for June 28, the second for July 5 and the final for July 12.