The Meadowlands Racetrack will play host to qualifying races this Saturday morning, after Thursday’s approval by the New Jersey Racing Commission. Then on June 5 and 6, the Big M returns to live racing for the first time in almost three months — and for the first of at least nine consecutive Friday/Saturday night cards.
Gov. Phil Murphy made an announcement on Friday afternoon that racing would “resume as soon as next weekend,” but that is seen as nothing more than a formality of the commission giving the official green light.
“COVID-19 has had such an incredibly horrific impact on so many people, and that includes all of us in the harness racing business,” Meadowlands General Manager Jason Settlemoir said in a statement Thursday.
“Many of us have lost friends and loved ones while so many horsemen have had to scrape by during the last three months as they continued to feed and care for their horses, not knowing when they would be able to get back to work and make some money to care for their families.
“We cannot change the bad things that COVID-19 has already done to us as an industry and a society, but we must move forward, because now that we are able, it’s time to get back to work.”
Saturday’s qualifiers begin at 10 a.m., with the entry box closing at the same time on Friday.
Railbirds must stay home, alas
“Because of safety concerns, we will not be able to have our fans come to the track to see the races,” said Settlemoir. “But we look forward to our faithful customers betting the races on their favorite app or online platform.”
As usual, the races will be shown nightly on TVG across the country. The Roberts Television Network (RTN) also carries Meadowlands races live.
“COVID-19 was — hopefully — a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Settlemoir added. “All of us at the Meadowlands are thinking about everyone affected by the loss of life during the course of the pandemic, and want everyone to know that we will conduct our business at the Meadowlands in the safest way possible for our employees and horsemen, so that we can adjust to the new normal, and then, ultimately, one day, return to life as we knew it.”
All racing employees must show proof of a recent COVID-19 test, with protocols laid out by track officials.
Gaitway Farm in Manalapan featured qualifying races on Friday and will again on Sunday and Tuesday — but only among standardbred horses that are tenants there.
Magical Acres in Chesterfield will host qualifiers on Monday and Wednesday, pending racing commission approval.
Gov. Murphy and the commission earlier this month received a “Risk Management and Racing Protocol” proposal from Dr. Karyn Malinowski of the Rutgers Science Center and the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey.
The protocols cover both the qualifiers and the full cards beginning next weekend.
Horsemen getting much-needed boost
The chance to win purse money will be a sigh of relief for a state harness racing community that Meadowlands track operator Jeff Gural recently told NJ Online Gambling was “desperate” to get back in the game.
Only essential personnel will be permitted on-site on qualifying days — that means no owners allowed. Proper personal protective equipment and social distancing will be required for all participants.
Who is essential? Paddock judge, horse identifier, equipment/numbers person, outrider, two starting car persons, security (both inside and outside the paddock), farrier, and veterinarians.
The SBOANJ sent a formal request to the commission for an amendment to 45-day qualifying rules and administration of the drug Lasix. But the Lasix use, under the care of a state-approved licensed veterinarian, must take place at training centers.
The pent-up demand for races is expected by Meadowlands officials to lead to an “overwhelming response” in the industry. Therefore, preference will be given to entries on horses that are eligible for Meadowlands stakes and from trainers who race regularly at The Meadowlands.
News about other tracks
As for Monmouth Park, a go-ahead from the commission would allow up to 1,600 thoroughbred horses to be stabled at the Oceanport track beginning next week.
That would be enough time to prepare for a scheduled July 3 opening date — after an initial scheduling of May 2 and a revised opening on May 23 each had to be scrapped due to the pandemic.
Freehold Raceway, the state’s other track, had a 2020 schedule that was to take place on weekends from January through last weekend.
With a summer hiatus that isn’t scheduled to end until Aug. 28, it’s possible that Freehold’s harness races might go back live with fewer limitations on spectators, or even none.
New York, meanwhile, has released its own state protocols.
Belmont Park will kick off its thoroughbred season on Wednesday.
In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf gave a tentative green light this week for racing without spectators to take place, but various details including when each of the state’s six tracks will restart remain to be determined.
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