BATAVIA — Batavia Downs’ General Manager of Live Racing, Todd Haight has been around horse racing since he was a child.

A true fan of the sport, Haight has seen it all over the course of several decades at the track, and has certainly endured plenty of new experiences since being promoted to GM in 2011. With that being said, Haight hasn’t witnessed anything the likes of that which he has gone through over the past few months.

Since COVID-19 struck, the horse racing community has been greatly impacted, including locally at Batavia Downs, but that hasn’t stopped Haight and his staff from remaining hopeful while preparing vigorously for the start of the season - whenever that happened to be.

“It is what it is, we really just want to get some money in the horsemen’s pockets,” said Haight.

All of that optimism and hard work is about to pay off for the Downs, as they’ve gotten the go ahead to open for live racing on July 25 and Haight reports that his track is in as good of shape as ever.

“(When it comes to the track) equine safety and human safety is number one,” said Haight. “We’ve grated off the old material and have been working on adding the new material since April.”

Haight’s excitement for July 25 is apparent, but not as much as it could be. For, as it stands today the Downs will be unable to welcome fans back to the stands on opening night due to sporting events with fans still being prohibited in New York State. Although Haight is holding out hope that things will change between now and then, he and his staff are doing what they can under the limitations with which they have to work around and are preparing to open with fans or without.

“The barn area is in great shape and the race track is coming along nicely,” said Haight, who touted the track’s firmness as the result of his crew’s tireless preseason work over the past few months. “We’ve also been working in the clubhouse and hope to have that open as well.”

Inside the clubhouse, Haight is hoping to have a few on-site self-betting kiosks for bettors, while his team is working diligently to also provide dining options for patrons. Online betting possibilities through have also been discussed in the interim, while fans are not permitted on the apron or in the grandstand.

“This race track draws fans, so it makes me sick that we may not have them here on opening day,” said Haight.

While the welcoming of fans will bring along even more detailed health guidelines for the Downs to follow, right now the track is focusing on enforcing those guidelines with the race teams.

“If our racers don’t follow the guidelines there will be a problem,” said Haight. “But I don’t think we’ll have any problem, (I expect) our horsemen will follow (the guidelines).”

With or without fans, Haight says the entire racing community’s anticipation for opening night has been building, and will continue to build over the next few weeks.

“It’s just like being at a ball park. There is nothing like opening night,” said Haight. “Our guys behind the scenes have been working hard. It’s coming together nicely and we expect some great racing here this summer.”

Many race tracks have struggled mightily to push through the health crisis that has ran rampant over the past few months. With that being said, that has not been the case at the Downs, says Haight, who believes the racing culture embedded into the GLOW region will help the Downs hit the ground running once they are able to reopen completely.

Haight went on to explain how he believes that the long-standing tradition of horse racing in Batavia is like no other.

“Meeting with our groups in the clubhouse, talking about their parents being here in the 50s and the 60s (is special),” he said. “And you don’t have to be a big gambler or anything to have a good time (here). Being on the rail in the summertime, having an ice cream cone or a hot dog (it’s a great night out).”

Fans may not be permitted at this time, but there remains hope that after a few weeks, things will have changed and the Downs will be able to welcome what they believe to be the most loyal race fans in New York back to the track.

Regardless, Batavia Downs is ready to race.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1