They’re off — racing again, finally.
The last horses stuck in the barn will finally resume racing at Presque Isle Downs in Erie on Monday, July 27.
The thoroughbreds at the Downs are the last horses to break the gate anywhere in Pennsylvania.
Racing resumed elsewhere weeks ago
Five other Pennsylvania tracks, three harnesses and two thoroughbred, which shuttered along with the state’s casinos in mid-March, have already resumed racing.
The first, Penn National, resumed its meet more than a month ago, on June 19.
Racing at Downs got stuck in the gate even as casino reopened
And while Presque Isle’s casino reopened June 26, racing there has remained stalled, even though the backside opened July 13.
Presque Isle depends on ship-ins. Some of the horses were transported in from hot spots such as Florida, slowing the reopening process as quarantines followed for personnel on orders of the Erie County Health Department, according to Todd Mostoller, who represents horsemen there.
Additionally, the track’s surface — a sand and rubber mix known as Tapeta — required work, with wax and fiber applied.
Horsemen report daily to a trailer on the backstretch for temperature checks. If those are satisfactory, a colored wristband is issued and must be worn on the backstretch.
Purses remain intact, but two major races cut at PID
The track’s two richest races, the Presque Isle Masters Stakes and the Presque Isle Mile Stakes, are not being run in 2020.
But other stake races remain, with purses at their normal levels, said Mostoller. The length of the meet, however, is cut in half.
At PID, races run Mondays through Wednesdays to begin. Thursdays get added on August 13. The meet runs through Oct. 22.
Purses trimmed at many tracks, no spectators allowed
Other PA tracks have both trimmed purses and canceled name races even as handles (total wagers on races) have risen.
As with other PA tracks, there are no spectators.
“We’re hoping for a good strong meet,” said Mostoller, executive director of the Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. He said he’s hearing that other tracks have had record handles, and he hopes that carries over.
Horse commission meeting next week
The Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission meets the day after the Downs’ opener, on July 28, again by phone.
Gov. Tom Wolf has agreed to reimburse local county fair boards for harness races held at otherwise canceled fairs. The commission had backed that move at its last meeting.
Sixteen of Pennsylvania’s 108 agricultural fairs host harness-racing competitions, and the department reimburses organizers for costs, per the state’s Race Horse Industry Reform Act, though the fairs have been canceled for health reasons.
Racing but without a county fair is still set for the Bedford County Fair, Clearfield County Fair, Crawford County Fair, Dayton Fair in Armstrong County, Erie County Fair, Gratz Fair in Dauphin County, Great Stoneboro Fair in Mercer County, Lycoming County Fair, Washington County Fair, Wayne County Fair and York Fair.
Spectators are not allowed, but some of the races will be streamed and can be wagered on.
Organizers of the Bloomsburg Fair in Columbia County and the Somerset County Fair are still planning to hold their fairs as well as the harness racing events, according to PennLive.
Major races around the US
While the virus has wreaked havoc with racing schedules, the following major races are on for now:
- Aug. 7: Saratoga Special
- Aug. 8: Travers Stakes
- Aug. 15: Alabama Stakes
- Aug. 22: Pacific Classic
- Aug. 29: Sword Dancer
- Sept. 4: Kentucky Oaks
- Sept. 5: Woodward
- Sept.5: Kentucky Derby
- Oct. 3: Preakness
- Nov. 6-7: Breeders Cup