Pandemic boosts betting at Charlottetown race track

·3 min read

The Charlottetown Driving Park is the only open harness racing track in Canada right now, and it was first to open in the spring, and that created a surge in revenues in 2020.

While public health restrictions in the pandemic have changed the fan experience, in other parts of Canada the pandemic has shut down racing entirely. That's led hungry punters from across the continent to watch and bet remotely.

"We're going into markets in Canada and the U.S. that are seeing us for the first time, and they're betting on our product," Lee Drake, manager of racing, brands and broadcast for Red Shores, told Island Morning host Laura Chapin.

"We're developing some good partnerships there."

Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC
Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC

Wagers are up about 10 per cent. That means not only more revenue for the track, but increases to the purse pool for local drivers and horse owners.

Tracks closed in Ontario

For two Prince Edward Islanders now working in the industry in Ontario things have not been going so well.

Rachel Andrew grew up with horses at the family's Meridian Farms in Miltonvale, P.E.I., and now owns her own stable in Dundas, Ont.

Andrew is accustomed to a busy schedule during the racing season, at the track six or seven nights a week and training horses during the day. She has about a dozen horses in her stable, not including the ones that are too young to race.

"This is a pretty big change," she said.

Waiting in uncertainty

Andrew has still been working to keep her horses in shape.

"It's really hard to know exactly what to be doing because we really don't know what date we're going to be starting back," she said.

Having her own farm puts her in a better position than some owners, because she is not having to pay to stall her horses somewhere.

Austin Sorrie, a 21-year-old driver from eastern P.E.I., also made the move to Ontario.

As with Andrew, there has been little for him to do except train horses, and try to keep himself in shape at the same time.

Standardbred Canada
Standardbred Canada

"I've just been laying low, pretty well, trying to not put too much weight on," said Sorrie.

And, also like Andrew, uncertainty is his biggest challenge. He had an opportunity to race in the U.S., or to return to P.E.I., but it was unclear how much work he would get, and he was concerned tracks could open on short notice in Ontario, and he would have to self-isolate for two weeks on his return.

Track policy would require that quarantine even after returning from P.E.I.

"No one really knows anything. That's the worst part," he said.

Both Sorrie and Andrew do have a bright spot to look forward to. They are both nominated for rising star at the O'Brien Awards, Standardbred Canada's celebration of the best in harness racing. That event will be live streamed on the Standardbred Canada website this weekend.

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