Let the races begin

P: Horses burst out of the starting gate.  | Randy Vanderveen photo

The 2020 horse racing season exploded out of the gates at Evergreen Park’s JDA Raceway near Grande Prairie, Alta., July 11 as race organizers and the park established strict protocols in an effort to corral COVID-19. 

It first appeared the race season, which runs until late August, was not going to happen, like so many other events across the country. However, after determining that social distancing, mandatory masks and extra cleaning could help prevent the spread of the virus at the outdoor event, the sport was given the go ahead this season.

Everyone involved in the sport — from spectators to jockeys and trainers — are having to adjust to how things are being done differently. Ceri Morgan Ortiz, whose husband Martin is a jockey, said even day to day life has changed. She said the sport is a family affair, but this year owners, grooms, trainers and jockeys have been placed into specific cohorts to try and reduce the possibility of infection. As a result, even family members are not allowed in the barn areas. 

Horses streak past the grandstand and a container of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. | Randy Vanderveen photo

However, Morgan Ortiz said she is happy things are back on track. 

While masks are mandatory for everyone, jockeys can remove their facial coverings once they load into the starting gate to make it easier to breathe and for visibility. 

Spectators, who also are required to wear masks, are encouraged to call the park and reserve a free ticket to limit the number of attendees and make it easier to practise social distancing. 

Hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes are located throughout the track and grandstand, and staff clean regularly.

Blandford Stewart carries his saddle as he walks back to the paddock area from the winner’s circle after winning the fourth race of the day. | Randy Vanderveen photo

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