Following more than two months of protecting the backstretch of horses and horsepeople from the COVID-19 pandemic at Woodbine, Fort Erie and tracks throughout Canada are getting ready to have racing return. There won’t be any spectators and the protocols involved from bringing horses from the barns to the paddock and onto the track are strict.

The message to keep maintaining social distancing, hand washing and the wearing of masks is as strong as ever.

“If you weren’t so diligent and committed to following the safety protocols we put in place, we wouldn’t be in a position to get back to racing on June 5 and June 6,” said Jim Lawson, CEO of Woodbine Entertainment in his weekly update to horsepeople. “It is equally important to continue to adhere to all safety protocols as we increase training activity at both Woodbine and Woodbine Mohawk Park in preparation for the return of racing. Please do not let your guard down!”

Lawson said to Harness Racing Update,  “I’m very concerned that people start to let their guard down and forget about what got us there. We’ve done a lot of good things to get us to this point… but as we go back to racing, one single point of failure, whether it’s in the driver community or the jockey community or the starting gate community… is going to shut us down.”

In the last week, jockeys have been allowed on the backstretch to work horses but are not to be in barns and instead pick up their horses outside of the barn. There were instances of this rule not being adhered to early on.

The HBPA of Ontario reminded its members that masks are mandatory on the backstretch.

“[Horsepeople] are not to go barn to barn and to keep at least 6 feet between you and your friend, co-worker, or employee while in the barn or on the rail. Frequent thorough hand washing cannot be done enough – remind your friends and neighbors to do so.

“Trainers, you need to be strong leaders of your team by setting good examples and re-enforcing the protocols to those in your employment.

“Those of us in leadership roles need your help and support to meet the goal of live racing.”

Fort Erie Racetrack will open on June 2 and Woodbine opens on June 6.

Assiniboia Downs is the first Canadian Thoroughbred track to open as it gets underway Monday, May 25, with a card of six races.