June 12th, 2021

Horses are back on the track without fans in the stands


By Herald on May 13, 2021.

Jockey Tim Moccasin takes a horse for a ride on the track before last fall’s season at the Rocky Mountain Turf Club. The horses are returning this spring, but the stands will remain empty for now. Herald file photo by Ian Martens

Update: Rocky Mountain Turf Club has announced they are now postponing this weekend’s opening of live horse racing. CEO Max Gibb says delay is due to last minute COVID-19 testing requirements for jockeys and crew received today from Alberta Health.

Originally slated for Saturday and Sunday, this weekend’s live horse racing has been cancelled with racing now scheduled to begin next weekend.
However, people can still wager on the Preakness Stakes Saturday.
Due to COVID-19 protocol, fans are not permitted at the RMTC, but can still view the racing and place wagers online.

 

Dale Woodard LETHBRIDGE HERALD sports@lethbridgeherald.com

The horses are back at the Rocky Mountain Turf Club, but for now the fans won’t be.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, the RMTC grandstand will be vacant, but the same race-day vibe will be intact as the horses take the gate starting this weekend.

However, online betters are encouraged to whoop it up in front of their computers to simulate a day at the track while catching the livestream at rockymountainturfclub.com or bullys.ca and placing a bet through http://www.xpressbet.com.

It starts Saturday and Sunday as the RMTC launches its spring schedule with the 2021 Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown.

The Belmont Stakes weekend goes June 5.

“We strongly encourage people at home to jump up and shout and maybe wear a Kentucky Derby hat,” said RMTC general manager Rose Rossi.

This year marks 25 years of racing at the RMTC.

“We’ve been in business since 1996,” said RMTC CEO Max Gibb. “This was a job I was going to take for two years. I got lucky and I got Rose Rossi and Dot Stein, two unbelievable staff, who have been doing the job forever.”

It’ll go on at least nine more years after the RMTC signed a nine-year contract extension with the Lethbridge and District Exhibition.

“So we’re excited and enthused that horse racing is going for another nine years,” said Gibb.

But for now, race day will be minus the fans in the stands.

“So it’ll be a little bit off, but people are always enthused to see it,” said Gibb. “We’ll have a great announcer and he’ll be heard all over America, but you can never substitute the energy of a crowd. But it’s going to be exciting. We’re following every health standard possible, but we do believe by the fall we’ll be able to have customers again and that’s why we’re having our Warrior Relay Racing and things like that. We’ll fill these grandstands and it’ll be exciting. It’s a bit of a downer, but a bit of an upper because we’re having it. It just won’t have the excitement of the ‘Come on, baby!’ right there in the stands.”

Gibb said xpressbet has been expanded this year.

“Last year we started xpressbet. These races are shown in almost every state that it’s legal to have gaming in America and Canada. We anticipate paramutual betting will be good and anyone who wants can get an Xpressbet account and watch the races.”

Spring racing will run until July 1, said Gibb.

“The horses go to Grande Prairie and come back Labour Day weekend and go through September and October.”

Gibb said the RMTC also expects to run two major Indian relay races in the late-summer and in the fall along with the PowWow.

“We expect it to be a great year. We’re optimistic, we’re positive and we support everyone wearing masks and social distancing, but we’re going to have a great year.”

With the ongoing pandemic, Gibb said purses will be down 10 to 15 per cent from what they were in 2019 on a normal year.

“So our horsemen are running for less money, (but) they’re still enthused.”

Still, Gibb pointed out racing in Lethbridge and southern Alberta is a $370 million-per-year economic development driver.

“So we’re pleased we’re holding it and hosting it again this year,” he said.

In keeping with pandemic protocol, the jockeys and trainers alike will be masked and maintain distance, said Gibb.

“The only closeness will be when there are two people. It’ll be the trainer putting the rider up on the horse. They’ll be wearing masks. Then loading in the chute, both the loaders and the riders will be wearing masks and the gallop boy who takes them there will be wearing masks. Everyone will be wearing masks and following all protocol and distancing as much as possible.”

Calling the races this year is longtime announcer Brent Seely, who makes a return to the RMTC.

“I’ve been in horse racing for a number of years, about 15 years across Alberta and down into Montana. I even did some dates in B.C,” he said. “It’s like riding a bike and I hope it’s true because it’s been a while since I’ve done it, but I’m looking forward to it.”

Seely said the no fans part of the spring will be different.

“But it’s all about the horsemen, the horses and the jockeys,” he said. “We’re keeping the industry alive and it’s going to be good. Hopefully we can loosen up on the COVID (protocol) and see what happens. But it’s definitely different.”

Post time is 1 p.m. every weekend.

For more information visit http://www.rockymountainturfclub.com.

Follow @DWoodardHerald on Twitter

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