For the second straight year, Dresden Raceway will begin a new season without any spectators.
Post time is 1 p.m. for Sunday’s opener at the harness racing track.
Step one in Ontario’s three-step reopening plan lets horse racing and motor speedways start without fans in attendance and with capacity and crew restrictions.
“We’re hoping in the next stage we can go back to having fans in the parking lots like we did at the end of last year. And then hopefully in the final stage, we can actually have some fans in the stands,” Dresden Raceway spokesperson Gary Patterson said.
“Right now, we’re just excited to have all these hard-working men and women of the horse industry back at it and earning some dough because that’s where they want to be.”
Last year, Dresden Raceway was allowed 100 fans – 50 on the backstretch and 50 in the parking lots on the grandstand side – for its final few race dates.
This year’s opener was originally slated for May 30, so two race dates have been lost. The track has applied to Ontario Racing to add one replacement to its now eight-date schedule.
The season ends with a Civic Holiday card Monday, Aug. 2.
Patterson’s phone was ringing non-stop when the provincial government announced tracks could reopen.
“It was ridiculous. It was awesome, though,” he said. “I had horsepeople calling me, I had fans calling me to see if there was going to be people allowed, I had obviously race track employees calling me and then (Dresden Agricultural Society) board members calling. … It’s nice to be back racing, and that’s where these folks need to be. They really work hard at their craft and it’s nice to be able to showcase and get these animals back on the track.”
Some returned last Sunday when the track hosted nine qualifiers, more than twice as many as usual. Patterson praised the Chatham-Kent public health unit for helping everyone to meet COVID-19 restrictions.
Many tracks weren’t holding qualifiers, so drivers, trainers and caretakers came to Dresden from Windsor-Essex, Sarnia-Lambton and London-Middlesex.
“You could just tell people were itching to get back to work,” Patterson said.
The schedule includes the annual Mark Austin Memorial Pacing Series, which has 39 entries. The first leg will be June 20, the second leg June 27 and the $15,900 final July 4.
The Ontario Sires Stakes’ Grassroots Series will send three-year-old colt pacers for the season finale.
“This is the first time in a long time that we’ve had pacing colts, which is really nice. … Every time they bring a Grassroots Series to Dresden, the track record’s always in jeopardy,” Patterson said.
Ontario Racing’s Prospect Series will make four visits: three-year-old colt trotters June 27, two-year-old filly pacers July 11, three-year-old filly pacers July 18 and three-year-colt pacers at the Aug. 2 finale.
“We’re really going to close with a bang this year with some of the top three-year-olds in Ontario,” Patterson said.
Dresden and Hanover raceways will also host the first OLG Ontario Women’s Driving Championship. The two-day event starts Saturday, July 17, at Hanover and continues Sunday, July 18, at Dresden.
Each track will hold five races exclusively for this competition with drivers earning points based on their results.
The drivers will vie for a $2,000 purse, but they’ll donate their regular earnings to charity. They’ll give to Harness For Hope at Dresden Raceway and to the Canadian Cancer Society at Hanover Raceway.
Fundraisers for the charities will also be held at each track.