There will be a lot fewer people watching Prince Edward Island’s marquee harness race in person this year when the horses line up behind the starting gate later this month.
The Guardian Gold Cup and Saucer would attract thousands of people to Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park under normal circumstances, but that number will be drastically reduced this year due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The restrictions will be in place for all 11 cards during the 10 days of racing that starts Thursday.
“We are restricted on how many people who are allowed to come on the grounds,” said Lee Drake, Red Shores’ manager of racing, brands and broadcast. “We have done everything possible to get as many people in here (while following) the guidelines. …
“We want everyone to be safe, we want to be safe, we want to get through this and make sure that we come out the other side and that harness racing is continuing to operate.”
The track has been allowed about 400 people on race nights, but Drake was awaiting word Tuesday from the province about the final number for Gold Cup night on Saturday, Aug. 22.
“We strongly encourage people … unless you have reservations here, or have made plans to be in this building, then 99 per cent you’re not getting in,” Drake said.
Red Shores has partnered with local businesses to host viewing parties while following public health guidelines on Gold Cup night. They will be held at Mill River, Olde Dublin Pub and Red Shores at the Summerside Raceway. There will also be a viewing area at the Charlottetown Events Grounds as part of the Island Drive-in Festival, created by the organizers of the Festival of Small Halls.
Red Shores' officials expect many more people will tune in online or listen from home or attend smaller watch parties to see the 61st edition of the Island tradition.
“I am sure people will find a way to see it, watch it and bet on it,” said Orwell Cove’s Donald MacRae, who co-owns a horse entered in this year’s trials.
“One thing that will not change is the great product that we have on the racetrack,” Drake said.
The draw was held on Tuesday to determine the field for Trial 1 on Saturday and Trial 2 on Monday. The top four in each trial advance to the $60,000 final on Aug. 22, with the remaining seven horses going to the consolation.
“They have two balanced elimination fields and it looks like any four from each division (could advance),” said Fred MacDonald, a sports columnist with The Guardian and editor of Atlantic Post Calls. “It looks like it’s going to make for a heck of a final.”
MacDonald, whose cellphone went off during the news conference revealing his ringtone was the call to the post, tipped his hat to the Maritime owners who entered their horses in the big race. Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions some owners from outside the Atlantic bubble decided not to send their horses to Charlottetown.
It has created a lot of horses with Maritime ownership in the two trials.
“Now you have a chance to be in the Gold Cup and Saucer, that’s what you dream about all your life,” MacDonald said. “This is your chance.”
MacRae co-owns Simple Kinda Man with D Racing Stable Inc. in Middletown, N.Y.
“I’ve had horses in the Gold Cup before, been a bridesmaid a few times, finished second, but never won it,” MacRae said. “We have a pretty good horse this year. I think we have a pretty good shot.”
Simple Kinda Man, who is trained by Jordan and Chris MacKay and will be driven by Jason Hughes, will leave from Post 3 in Saturday’s trial.
“It couldn’t be a better spot, really,” MacRae said. “You don't really want the rail in a big race like this and you don't want the outside, so I think, for him, it’s a good.”
MacRae, who has been involved in the sport his whole life, sees a level playing field without an overwhelming favourite to be in the winner’s circle after the finale.
“I think when you have a good, even field it’s better for everything,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a real good race.”
MacDonald said he doesn’t think the reduced number of people watching the event at the track with impact the race.
“By the time next Saturday rolls around, there will be enough hype and electricity in the air around the city as everyone will be talking about the race,” he said.
Red Shores has created an owners’ club where owners can sign up for one of the limited number of spaces to attend the races the night their horse is entered. It will go live on Red Shores’ website Wednesday at noon.
A look at the horses in The Guardian Gold Cup and Saucer field this year. Horses are listed from the rail out with their owner and trainer.
Horse Owner(s) Trainer
1. Father Ofthe Year Dr. Mitchell Downey, Saint John, N.B. Ellen Stevenson
2. Time To Dance Brent Campbell, Charlottetown, and Matthew MacDonald, Edwards, Ont. Marc Campbell
3. Simple Kinda Man D Racing Stable Inc., Middletown, N.Y., and Donald MacRae, Vernon Bridge Chris MacKay
4. Best To Hurst Neal Moase, Cornwall Jonah Moase
5. Screen Test Kickin Horse Stable, York, and William Andrew, Calgary Ronnie Gass
6. Avatar J Dean Larkin, Edwards, Ont., and Jody Sanderson, Cornwall Danny MacDonald
7. Euchred Kayla Habicht Walker, Inverness, N.S. Walter Walker
8. Freddy Bear 1187422 Ontario Inc., Ottawa Marc Campbell
1. Yankee Osborne Sarah Jane Stables, Mono, Ont. Ross MacInnis
2. Woodmere Ideal Art Ultimate Stable, Greater Lakeburn, N.B. Sifroi Melanson
3. Casimir Richie P Dr. Ian Moore, Cambridge, Ont., and Michael Goldberg, Toronto; Dr. Ian Moore
4. Lisburn Kevin Harvey, Hammonds Plains, N.S., and Rudge Racing, Dartmouth, N.S. Kenny Arsenault
5. J J Powerball Austin Sorrie, Montague, and Tammy Collings, Hazelbrook Wade Sorrie
6. Mach It Again David and John Sweet, O’Leary Ralph Stewart
7. Rose Run Quest Blair Hansen, Charlottetown Marc Campbell