Canterbury Park and Running Aces have cleared one more barrier to beginning their summer racing seasons, as Gov. Tim Walz gave his approval Wednesday for horse racing without spectators.
The thumbs-up was part of an executive order allowing more Minnesota businesses and activities to open, providing safeguards were in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Canterbury is planning to start its 52-day racing season June 10, and Running Aces is planning a 50-day harness racing season beginning June 20. Both tracks delayed their original start dates and shortened their seasons because of the pandemic.
Final approval must come from the Minnesota Racing Commission at a June 8 meeting. Andrew Offerman, Canterbury’s vice president of racing operations, said he anticipates the commission will give the go-ahead, now that the governor is on board.
“Every bit of good news feels like a major milestone right now,” Offerman said. “This provides certainty for the horsemen and horsewomen who have traveled here or are considering traveling here.
“They know they can operate their business and earn a living. That’s welcome news to their ears, and to our ears.”
With no spectators allowed, Canterbury and Running Aces will rely on wagers placed online or by phone. But Minnesotans will not be able to bet using that method, since state law prohibits residents from placing phone or online wagers on in-state races.
Canterbury is exploring the possibility of drive-through wagering in the track’s parking lot.
Steve May, executive director of the Minnesota Racing Commission, said the governor’s order requires both tracks to follow detailed disease-prevention plans.
They must observe protocols such as enhanced sanitizing and proper social distancing. Canterbury already is enforcing those rules in its stable area, which began accepting horses May 8, and Running Aces has a similar plan for the Monday opening of its barns.
May said development of the race-day plan is “well underway,” largely because creating protocols for the stable areas gave the tracks a head start. For the most part, the existing rules will simply be extended to the paddock, the racing office and other areas.
“We’re ready to do this,” May said. “We’ve had a lot of positive buy-in from everybody that’s back [in the Canterbury stables] right now. Everyone has a pretty good understanding of why we’re doing this, and that’s what’s gotten us to this point.
“I think the governor took those things into consideration.”
Offerman said about 750 horses were on Canterbury’s grounds Wednesday, and the governor’s order could help boost that number to 1,100 over the next seven days. Some trainers were reluctant to ship to Canterbury until they were certain racing would be allowed.
Canterbury will race Mondays through Thursdays, with post times yet to be announced. Running Aces plans to run primarily on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 1 p.m.