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DOWN THE BACKSTRETCH: Races to continue despite festival cancellations

The crowd at 2019 Old Home Week prepares for the start of a race at Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park.
The crowd at 2019 Old Home Week prepares for the start of a race at Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park.

This harness racing season has already shaped up to be much different than any other year due to the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic, but Monday’s news changes the dynamic even more.

The P.E.I. Association of Exhibitions announced a number of popular summer events, including Charlottetown's Old Home Week and the Summerside Lobster Carnival, will be cancelled this year due to social distancing requirements.

While most of the festival events will not be held, Red Shores officials have indicated their intention to still race during the regular time slots of Governor's Plate Week racing in July and Old Home Week during August. Plans still call for the Governor's Plate to be held July 11 at Red Shores at the Summerside Raceway and for The Guardian Gold Cup and Saucer to be the final event of Old Home Week racing on Aug. 22 at Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park (CDP). What those weeks of racing will look like is still a giant question mark, as the capital oval plans to resume racing with no fans on June 4 with a strict list of essential personnel who will be allowed at the track and a number of health protocols in place for the resumption of the harness racing season.

Currently there is no inter-provincial travel, which brings into question horses coming from out of the region for the Gold Cup and Saucer as well as horses and horse people coming to compete and help fill programs during both major racing weeks. So how many race dates will be feasible during those events and whether any fans will be in attendance by that point are still anyone’s guess.

The stakes season for two- and three-year-olds is still in a state of flux with horses usually travelling between all three Maritime provinces for events each week. The schedule has been pushed back for a tentative July start, but just what the season will look like remains to be seen, pending direction from health authorities in each province.

“We have decided to reschedule the May and June stake dates to later in the year (and are) awaiting further clarification on the status of interprovincial travel,” said Atlantic Standardbred Breeders Association president Wayne MacRae said Thursday. “We all realize the critical importance of our members being able to compete safely within a regional stakes program.”

Qualifiers are set for the CDP on May 23, 28, 30 and 31 with the season set for the first Thursday in June. There will be plenty of horses ready to race as the capital oval will likely be the only track running in Canada. During the pandemic, the small number of thoroughbred tracks that have remained operational have seen their live handles increase nearly 10-fold, so our record wager of $644,000 during the 1994 Gold Cup and Saucer program could conceivably be in jeopardy of being broken. Time will tell how much competition is in play come June 4.

Other tracks

In the U.S., New York's Tioga and Vernon Downs hope to commence their seasons before the end of May, pending approval, with similar plans at Northfield Park and Scioto Downs in Ohio. Indiana has plans of resuming racing in mid-June at Hoosier Park. Requests for racing to resume in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have so far been denied until further down the line.

In Ontario, there has been talk from the Woodbine Entertainment Group of racing resuming in June, but no firm plans have been released.

The Black Book Standardbred horse sale in Harrisburg, Pa., in November has announced some small changes, including the discussion about expanded telephone bidding on horses, as well as online bidding due to people not being able to physically be in the location on sale day. Similar discussions will certainly be on the table for the Atlantic Classic Yearling sale set for October in Crapaud.

Nicholas Oakes' column appears in The Guardian each Friday. He can be reached at

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