'It was incredibly different': Horse racing resumes at Assiniboia Downs without fans

Darren Dunn, chief executive officer, is photographed at the track at Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg Monday, May 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

After being forced to shut down due to COVID-19, Assiniboia Downs began live horse racing again on May 27, and the track is calling the first three days of competition a success.

“The first three days went very very well,” said Darren Dunn, CEO of Assiniboia Downs. “Operationally very smooth, very pleasing that we were as expected prepared for this, and we were able to get the much anticipated live race meet off the ground.”

Although horse racing is back at the track, it has a very different look than it used to. There are no fans allowed in the stands, and due to physical distancing requirements, only one trainer and one groomer per horse are allowed in the facility.

“It was incredibly different all around, no cheering, no yelling, no programs banged on the leg, no fist pumps to the sky whatsoever,” said Dunn.

Best summed up as a virtual online race meet, Dunn said it was very strange not to have fans on site.

But that didn’t stop people from watching the races. People tuned in from around the world to watch online.

“The wagering we experienced was very robust,” said Dunn. “If anything it exceeded our expectations."

Nearly $4.5 million in bets were made over the first three days of races, which Dunn said is record-setting. He said in addition to betting in Canada, bets were also made from spectators in the United States and South America.

“The retention and the margin is very small that we get from that, but still, like so many other industries out there, any revenue coming in is very important. It was a great start to the meet, we’re very excited and optimistic as things move forward,” he said.

The next live races at Assiniboia Downs are set for June 1.