Islanders encouraged to watch Gold Cup and Saucer away from the track
'It's not like other years'
Harness racing fans on P.E.I. are being warned not to make plans to attend the annual Gold Cup and Saucer race this year in person, unless they have a reservation.
The Island's annual signature horse race generally sees thousands at the Charlottetown Driving Park, but this year due to COVID-19, only a few hundred will be allowed on-site. And everyone else will have to catch the races online.
"It's very hard when you get a major signature event like this, people say, 'Well, that's great, I'm going to come, I can't wait to get here'," said Lee Drake, manager of racing, brands and broadcast for Red Shores.
"But unless you made reservations to come in here … it's really really really challenging to come here, and I would just caution people to make sure that they have plans before they come because it's not like other years, it can't be like other years."
At a news conference Tuesday, the post positions of the horses were announced, as well as the Gold Cup ambassadors for this year.
Officials said spectators allowed on-site will be allotted specific zones, for everything from betting to dining to washrooms, and will be asked to stay within them. Entrance to the barn area will also be restricted. But organizers said cancelling the races this year just wasn't an option.
"We know how important this racing industry is in P.E.I. — it reaches into every community," said Drake.
"And so in order to keep that going we had to find a way to get racing, get the athletes back on the track, that was number one. Number two, we had do it safely. And number three, I think Islanders need, we all need a piece of good news and we can keep a piece of Island tradition going."
Online bets soar
Drake is encouraging Islanders who can't see the race in person to set up backyard watch parties, or head to participating restaurants and bars to take in the excitement.
It will be shown at the Charlottetown Event Grounds as part of the Island Drive-In Festival show that night.
Drake said even with traffic and in-person betting dramatically reduced this year, there's been a 154 per cent increase in traffic and betting online in recent months.
"So we've seen some big increases there, and we're not surprised by that," said Drake.
"If you can't come to the track and you want to get involved in it, we started a campaign back when we opened and Islanders embraced it. And there's a lot of new people getting involved in racing that embrace technology, and so we have taken it to that next level."