BATAVIA — If the harness racing season was starting today at Batavia Downs, there would be no live audience. A Downs official said he hopes that will change by Opening Day, July 25.
“Hopefully any day, we get the go-ahead to reopen (to fans). We’re ready for it,” said Todd Haight, director/general manager of live racing, at the track Tuesday. “We’ve been working on the track every day, trying to get it ready.
“We did $1 million in on-track betting last year,” he said. “We’re scrambling to come up with a way to replace that revenue.”
The grandstands and the apron of the track will be devoid of spectators until the state Gaming Commission tells Batavia Downs it can admit them. Haight said the Downs is at least hoping to open the Clubhouse and allow customers to order meals, though there will be no buffet dinner.
“On the racing side, they (Gaming Commission officials) have put out some rules and we have to follow up with our set of rules. We’ll be submitting them this week,” he said. “They’ve made it very clear what they expect from us.”
Anyone who enters the barn area will have to have his or her temperature taken, to be sure that it is 100.4 degrees or lower, and wear a facemask. The men and women drivers’ locker rooms will each be open, but only accessible to two people at a time.
The Batavia Downs paddocks that are set up back-to-back meet social distancing requirements. The Downs does have a paddock that has to be reduced in capacity to meet social distancing requirements.
“We’re going to have to reduce our paddock, this year, from a six-race paddock to a five-race paddock,” Haight said.
After a race, the horses will be brought directly to the wash stalls. After they are washed and are out of the stalls, there will be people there to sanitize the stalls before the next group of horses is brought there. The stalls in the paddocks will be sanitized after each race as well.
Also regarding COVID-19 health and safety requirements, there will be a 75-mile-radius limit for horses that may be brought to Batavia Downs to race.
“We won’t see people from other tracks racing here this year,” Haight said.
Returning to the subject of the fans, the live racing director/general manager said the only way to watch a race right now is at an off-track betting location or online. On a typical Saturday night, when fans were allowed to come to Batavia Downs, the racino would go through about 900 programs, Haight said.
“For us, it’s a big loss. We have a loyal fan base,” Haight said. “It’s an uneasy feeling for me, because I look forward to seeing our fans every year.”
The live racing schedule, pending commission approval, includes three racing dates for this month — July 25, 27 and 29, with first post time at 5 p.m. each day. Racing in August is scheduled for Mondays and Wednesdays, with first post time at 5 p.m., plus racing on two Sundays, Aug. 2 and 9, with first post times of 1:15 p.m. September will feature racing on Wednesdays and Fridays with a 5 p.m. first post time. Racing would continue on Wednesdays and Fridays in October, November and December, through Dec. 11, all at the 5 p.m. post time.