Sunday afternoons have been considerably different this summer. Normally, I’m away for the first part to Dresden, Ontario and the second part to Leamington, Ontario.
It’s one of the things that I do for myself. I enjoy going to the harness races at these two small Ontario tracks.
Part of the fun is driving there. Particularly going to Dresden, I get to drive past the location of the house of my great aunt and great uncle, think of the conversations I had about Paincourt, and driving through Oungah which is essentially an intersection and a golf course and just knowing that there probably is an interesting history there that I can’t find. Dresden is unique in itself with all kinds of Ontario history to explore before going to the races.
Leamington is a little different since it’s kind of a straight shot from home unless I decide to wander along the shores of Lake Erie. Once I get there, there often is an auction next to the track to explore and then it’s off for a quick lunch and then a study of the program in advance of the races. The track’s battered pickles can’t be beat.
All of this is out of the question this summer, I’m guessing. For the longest time, harness racing had shut down completely because of COVID-19. It was a hardship for horse owners who rely on purses to keep things rolling. Eventually, harness racing was allowed to resume although you couldn’t actually go to the track. Drivers and trainers obviously have to be there; the horses are terrific athletes but they can’t go it alone. Masks are everywhere and the whole industry seems committed to make it safe for everyone.
Dresden is located in Kent County which is now a Stage 3 community and they opened up things just a bit this past Sunday. You could register on Facebook and they were allowing 50 fans into the grandstand area and another 50 into the backstretch. For the rest of us, the races were broadcast live. For the rest of us with really bad internet access, the races were also archived on YouTube so that they could be watched after the fact.
Dresden has a unique event to show appreciation for fans on its last day. Fresh corn on the cob and apple cider but … wait …
I guess that would have been a lot of corner for 100 people.
Sunday afternoons is also race day at Clinton Raceway. Bonus! They were broadcast live and the internet seemed to do a better job with its signal. While people aren’t allowed on track yet, I could see people parked in cars on William Street watching the races. While they couldn’t wager on a race by going to a teller or a machine on site, they could do it over the net if they were so inclined. Huron County is also a Stage 3 community.
The races are fun to watch; I’ve long enjoyed this. When I’m at the track in person, I’ll watch live and then head to a monitor and watch a replay or to see an exciting finish. One of the interesting things is watching the horse and driver return to the winner’s circle or winner’s area to get a winning photo taken.
Sometimes, it’s kind of difficult to understand everyone who is out there, there are so many. Last year, a friend of mine’s horse Sportsline won in 1:57 at Leamington and I got my picture taken with people I know and people I didn’t.
Sportsline has had a bit of a rough time but is now a year older and stronger and setting incredible speeds at Mohawk Raceway.
These days, you don’t see the mass of people in photos because of the rules. Now, it’s the driver, owner, and trainer, all masked up. At times, the traditional picture can be a challenge. You try running a mile in 2 minutes and then be told to stand still and smile! These days with just three people in the picture, the horse often doesn’t even stop; he/she just slows down for a quick pic and then it’s back to the barns to get rinsed off.
Who except Silver would want to take a picture with a masked man?
So, the industry is being very careful about the safety of those who make it and those who might want to come to the track and enjoy it. This shows up in the finances:
Total Purse: $46,700
Total Handle: $24,620
This from Dresden yesterday. Clinton did better.
Dresden shuts down in the next week and then Leamington opens. Sadly, Leamington remains in an area that is still a Stage 2 community and not doing well with numbers. Could it be lowered to Stage 1 to get things in order?
The bizarre thing about all this is that this sport is all outside. Dresden has a huge grandstand with a few picnic tables out front near the track. Like Leamington, many people bring lawn chairs to enjoy the afternoon. Personally, I like to go into the grandstand and walk up a few rows. It gives a better view of the entire track and you get a little exercise going up steps.
Yes, the paddocks and barns stable the horse inside but during raceday, the doors are wide open to let a breeze go through.
In a little over a month, there’s a very real possibility that students in Ontario will be asked to return to school. Schools aren’t outside; some rooms might even have windows (my old classroom was one of those that didn’t, being an interior room); ventilations systems will get a redo over the summer and everyone is hoping that there is some testing of those systems for filtration, etc. I’m writing this on Monday morning and the Minister of Education is supposed to be making some sort of announcement this afternoon and school district are to have plans for the first of August. I’m sure that he and the Premier will be masked up and do the “cabinet shuffle” to speak to us and answer questions from reporters.
I just can’t find the sense in my mind in how the public is protected at an outdoor sport compared to how students and teachers will be treated in a back to school scenario that is anything but. I keep having visions of my old secondary school with students spread out on the grass looking for a wireless signal while staying safely distant and hoping that it doesn’t rain or the bees don’t attack.
It’s not a pleasant picture.