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JONES: Golf leads off, horse racing on deck

Horse racing fans watch a race at the Century Mile Racetrack and Casino, in Edmonton Saturday May 4, 2019.
Horse racing fans watch a race at the Century Mile Racetrack and Casino, in Edmonton Saturday May 4, 2019.

First golf!

Then horse racing?

When it comes to sports that certainly looks like the top of the batting order in the COVID-19 Alberta relaunch plan.

Golf was expected to get the leadoff position in Stage 1. But it turned out to be was speedier than expected.

As for horse racing, the return of the thoroughbreds to Century Mile looks like it has Stage 2 written all over it.

Any sport involving public gatherings of more than 15 people would appear to be Stage 3. And that won’t be anytime soon.

Golf was a no-brainer.

Bursting with confidence, The Ranch course in west Edmonton even held a contest on Twitter this week inviting entries to pick the correct date of opening day for a free round of golf for a foursome with a draw from those who correctly determined the date.

“Contest ends when government announces decision.”

In the embargoed copy provided to the media before Premier Jason Kenney’s announcement of the removal and relaxing of some of the COVID-19 restrictions was announced Thursday, the contest winner would have come from the entries that listed Monday.

Quote-unquote: “Golf courses can open on May 4, with restrictions including keeping clubhouses and pro shops closed.”

However, by the time Kenney reached the podium, he declared the courses would be able “to open this weekend.”

But Kenney got ahead of himself. May 4 he later corrected.

At 7:30 p.m. Dr. Deena Hinshaw had the last word.

“Golf courses can open as soon as Sat. May 2,” she tweeted, adding guidance for courses would be available online Friday.

The way that went back and forth it should have been tennis.

Alberta was the last of the four provinces in the west to announce golf courses would open but will now be the second province to actually have golfers hit the links.

B.C. courses are already in play with restrictions of one golfer per cart, plugs in the holes and social distancing beyond the prescribed hockey stick length in the community and a list of other items. It appears the exact same regulations in use in B.C. will be forwarded to the golf clubs in Alberta in the coming hours.

There was no mention of horse racing in Kenney’s Alberta relaunch, but it would appear to fall under the provincial plan that the ponies would be part of Stage 2.

“That’s what I think, too,” said Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association of Alberta (HBPA) President Norm Castiglione.

“I think we’d probably fit in there because we wouldn’t have fans in the stands,” he said of operating with off track betting and possibly the new ‘Dark Horse’ apps already approved by Woodbine Racetrack in Ontario that allow you to bet on a race and watch it on your cellphone.

“Horse racing fans and people in and around the industry should know that we’re working with the government on a plan to get horse racing back,” said Castiglione.

On Wednesday, progress appeared to be made at Woodbine where breezing, timed training and starting gate training was announced to happen in the next couple weeks with a June meet now being projected.

Century Mile here has been a bit ahead of that. Horses here have been on the track and training since late February.

“We hadn’t had gate work and clocks until this week. But we continue to get ready until they say we can operate,” said Castiglione.

Live horse racing has continued safely in other locations such as Australia, Hong Kong, Gulfstream Park, Tampa Bay Downs, Oaklawn Park, Will Rogers Downs and others such as Churchill Downs soon to reopen.

A significant percentage of the jockey population during race meets here involves international talent. But given a ‘go’ they’d be good to go.

“We would have enough. They might not be the ones you’d expect to see in some cases but with as many tracks that are down and not operating yet, I think you’d see jockeys come from other provinces.”

To some extent, horse racing here, unless the government advances them some purse money, can’t really get going until the casinos open. A percentage of casino profits in the province go toward the purses.

While some of the casino money from January and February was banks, and while there’s some carried forward from last year, the HBPA has a rainy day fund “and goodness knows it’s pouring right now,” says Castiglione.

“The fact is there is nowhere near enough money to have a race meet of three or four months. Until the casinos open up there’s not the ability to run a race meet without that revenue.

“I don’t think I’m speaking out of place here but the casinos have had lots of visits with the government of how many machines they could open up, etc. and that the expectation is they could have what they call ‘soft openings’ in June,” said Castiglione.

“We’re ready. When the government allows us to start up, we’re ready to go and racing will begin immediately.”


Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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