The clamour of hooves pounding dirt is back at Century Downs Racetrack and Casino.
According to Marketing Manager Karen Franco, the Balzac-based racetrack resumed its live horseracing schedule in late June after a four-month hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The standardbred horseracing season typically begins in April.
“We are back with standardbred racing for 2020,” Franco said. “We’ve been racing all through July, and kicking off August, we’ll be racing twice a week on Saturday and Tuesday afternoons.”
The start time for races on both days is 2:15 p.m., she added.
The 2020 racing season will wrap up in late October, providing plenty of opportunities to see some of Alberta’s finest four-legged athletes in action at the 5.5-furlong track.
“It’s beautiful to be out in the fresh air, enjoying the sunshine,” she said. “It’s a great way to spend the afternoon, taking in a part of Alberta’s culture – our horse industry and horse racing. It’s a great outdoor experience.”
Franco added the casino and racetrack’s reopening came with new health and safety measures to help protect visitors and staff from COVID-19. She said people are mandated to wear masks in the casino – which reopened June 13 – as well as the racetrack’s viewing area.
Other measures include frequent sanitization of surfaces and touchpoints, social distancing directives and a reduced capacity of 200 people in the racetrack’s viewing area.
Calling ahead is also recommended, she added, as some of the seating areas are by reservation only.
“They are being serviced with a full outdoor menu, so there’s no need for folks to wander – service can be right to your table,” she said.
As for the gambling side of the sport, Franco said there are multiple options available to place bets on the horse races, including ways that don’t require physical money to be exchanged. Tellers are also stationed behind Plexiglass.
“We’ve always encouraged card use,” she said. “Our off-track betting area in the casino is open, as well as our betting stations on the apron. There are a number of places and ways for people to place bets and enjoy the racing if that’s what they’re looking for.”
Due to the hiatus this year, Franco said races will be limited to standardbred, harness-racing horses. Thoroughbred fans will have to make the trek to Leduc, Alta.
“They’re racing right now in [Leduc], at our sister property – Century Mile,” Franco said. “Because of the delay of getting things up and running, it just doesn’t make sense to try to bring the thoroughbreds down here this year.”
Despite not being able to offer thoroughbred racing, Franco said horseracing enthusiasts have been pleased with the sport's return and accepting of the casino’s measures thus far.
“When we started looking at bringing racing back, we didn’t know if we would be able to have guests for the races, and we’ve done our best to adapt as the rules have shifted and protocols have changed,” she said.
“People have been really understanding about the fact things can change, and they understand we’re doing our best to ensure the safety of our fans, our guests, our horsemen and women as well.”
For anyone who cannot make it out to Balzac in person, Franco said the races are also streamed online at cnty.com/century-downs
“You can stream it at no cost and watch the races from our website on your computer or iPhone,” she said.