PEI

P.E.I. harness racing season to begin June 4 — with no fans at track

Live harness racing is returning to the Charlottetown Driving Park at Red Shores on June 4, but there will be no fans on site.

Planning continues for Gold Cup and Saucer race in August

'People are looking forward to something even if it’s watching through their computer screen,' says Red Shores general manager David MacKenzie. (Red Shores Racetrack & Casino/Facebook)

Live harness racing is returning to the Charlottetown Driving Park at Red Shores on June 4, but there will be no fans on site.

The season was supposed to start May 2, but was postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Red Shores general manager David MacKenzie said the province and Chief Public Health Office gave them the green light to start in June. The races lost in May will be added to the schedule, which runs until January.

MacKenzie said the June 4 card will be a full 2½-hour broadcast online with hosts Lee Drake and Peter MacPhee, though they will be physically separated. People will be able to wager online.

"People are looking forward to something even if it's watching through their computer screen, so we're pleased with that," he said.

MacKenzie said races will begin in Charlottetown for now, with Summerside possibly down the road.

The casino will remain closed. MacKenzie said the hope is to open in-room dining June 12 during Phase 3 of the province's ease-back plan. 

We are really focused on making sure our first phase is very successful and ensures the safety of the horse community and the animals.— David MacKenzie

"We are really focused on making sure our first phase is very successful and ensures the safety of the horse community and the animals," he said.

He said there is still planning for the popular Gold Cup and Saucer Race, an Island tradition for more than 60 years, for August. That is with the "full understanding" those plans could change without approval from the Chief Public Health Office.

"We're doing our due diligence to ensure that if it does happen it's going to be under safe measures for the public," he said.

"There's a lot of questions about whether off-Island horses are going to be allowed here. There's a whole bunch of moving parts."

MacKenzie says there 'a whole bunch of moving parts' with the Gold Cup and Saucer Race, but he's hoping it can can be held in August. (Al McCormick/CBC)

Red Shores was on course for its best financial year, said MacKenzie, before it lost the last two weeks of its fiscal year in March.

Though the barns have remained open, he said Red Shores, normally a hub of activity, has been like a "ghost town" the past six weeks.

'Thrives on people'

"Red Shores is a property that thrives on people. Our casino, our food and beverage operations and the racing are based on having lots of people on site and interacting with each other."

MacKenzie said the news of the June 4 start date has provided optimism for fans, drivers, trainers as well as farmers and other workers who have a stake in the industry.

And the horses, too, are ready to go.

"We've adopted a number of measures to ensure that horses can continue to train and prepare for the racing season and most of them are ready to rumble I think."

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