Individual industry stories and thoughts from the front lines in North America

Coping with COVID-19

March 20, 2020

Individual industry stories and thoughts from the front lines in North America.

by Dave Briggs

Harness Racing Update asked a wide number of people in the harness racing industry to share their personal stories and thoughts about coping with COVID-19. Each person was asked the following questions:

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?
2. What is the situation like in your area?
3. How has it impacted your work in the industry, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?
4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?
5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?
We thank everyone for taking the time to respond.

FLORIDA

Casie Coleman / Trainer

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

We’re in Wellington, Florida. We’re fine but life is different this last week. We have kind of self-quarantined ourselves, as we pretty much decided to stay home. We go to work, train the horses then go home. It’s sunny and we have a pool, so it’s not terrible but very different. No going out for us to restaurants, no bars, no beach, no casinos etc. We have been avoiding that on our own without being told to, and using a lot of Lysol wipes / bleach etc.

We stockpiled groceries for about a month, and dog and cat food and horse feed just to be prepared in case everything shuts down.

We’re lucky I had lots of toilet paper on hand before knowing we needed it! My husband always bugs me, not sure why. I always have so much toilet paper. Saying that, I have been out daily to get more for the barn. Stores are out of stock of a lot of things here, it’s a mad house. I literally went to seven different stores a few days ago to stock pile everything you thought we could possibly need to get through this if we get quarantined to the house.

2. What is the situation like in your area and 3. How has it impacted your work in the industry, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

It hasn’t changed our work days. So far, we are on schedule with the colts and doing as I planned on all along. Saying that, I’m scared we may get quarantined and all the staff can’t go to work. I’m scared some staff may head home (to Canada) as the Prime Minister asked them to. I’m scared the boarder may close and not let us come home when we planned to. I’m scared racing will close down for an extended period and really mess up stakes schedules on our horses.

I’m scared if we come home and have to have a 14-day quarantine, who will do all the work in that time?

I have no choice but to wait it out here in Florida for many reasons — staff issues, my barn (in Ontario) has a different stable in it now as I don’t get it back till mid-April, shippers not available, health and coggins papers take a week almost to get here and we don’t have them yet. I always re-vaccinate my horses with a certain program that starts three weeks out before shipping to keep them healthy (or try to) and I didn’t start that yet. There’s many different reasons we have to wait it out here and hope for the best.

Some of my Canadians are getting told their health care program they signed up for to cover them here may not be valid if they don’t come home. I told them if they feel they need to get home to go, but, so far, most of them sound like they’re staying, though.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

Help elderly people to make sure they have groceries and toilet paper — if you have extra and someone is in need help them out.

I told all my staff to be smart and get food canned and frozen stuff — be prepared. If they are stuck I will make sure they are taken care of though. No one is going to starve or have a dirty butt that works with me. LOL.

Wash your hands, stay home much as possible. No need to be out and about. Let this stuff die off. The sooner it dies off, the sooner we can all get back to real life again.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

I have a bad feeling we won’t be doing much racing this summer. I hope I’m really wrong, but I think things will he getting shut down for a while. Our whole income for my owners of all my horses is focused on June-November only and I don’t have a warm fuzzy feeling about racing this summer right now and I think and hope I have one of my best batches of babies ever and one very, very talented 3-year-old. Now we have this to deal with.

It’s not a fun time.

Paul Kelley / Trainer

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

My wife and I are in South Florida and my two boys are at our home in upstate NY. Both boys work in NYC but have been sent home as a precaution due to the outbreak.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

Here in south Florida social lifestyles are being tempered, but because the weather is so nice many people are still out and about.

3. How has it impacted your work in the industry, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

Because my stable is primarily based in south Florida it’s been business as usual, but I do have employees and horses in NJ too, so things are obviously very concerning there. We are still planning on shipping the Florida horses to NJ on April 9, but I guess we will have to rethink that if this situation doesn’t improve soon enough. It’s hard to speculate too far down the road. But it will surely be devastating to everyone in the horse industry if we have a long-term stoppage.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

Horsemen have a great history of helping one another out during times of strife. We’re all in this together and I have no doubt that any hardship cases will find overwhelming help from their fellow horseman.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

Hopefully racing. I think it’s entirely possible to set up a health screening system through the horseman’s association’s and maintain a safe environment for the caretakers, trainers, drivers and paddock personnel to resume racing without on-site spectators.

Wally Hennessey / Driver

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

Pompano Beach. Myself, I am somewhat normal. My wife and daughter are teachers and they are on shutdown. Definitely not normal circumstances.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

Somewhat a panic, thought there is a lot less traffic and people out and around. It is hard to get many essential things you need at this time.

3. How has it impacted your work in the industry, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

I am very concerned about the future. This is something we’ve never dealt with before.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

The best advice I can give is to stay positive. I know it’s tough, but keep the faith.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

This is hard to answer as we all know this is day to day right now. Let’s just hope it ends sooner than later.

Brent MacGrath / Owner and Trainer

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

Right now Rhonda and I are packing up in Boynton Beach Florida and heading to Nova Scotia about a 36-hour drive. We are coping well. We are certainly concerned about the situation and looking forward to getting home with our family and friends.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

In this area there is a lot of concern about how this all plays out. There is certainly anxiety, plans up in the air, people away from home, travel etc. (I am quite sure that is the case worldwide)

3. How has it impacted your work, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

(In terms of my main job in the auto dealership business) our biggest concern is for our staff and trying to come up with ways to keep everyone working. What seemed like a good idea a short time ago can fall apart quickly. We are familiar with issues and obstacles. This is uncharted waters for all of us. We are staying upbeat and positive.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

I think we in the racing industry must stay positive and look out for and support each other the best way each of us can. It is up to us to try and think of ways to get racing back on the track while being vigilant to make sure we take every precaution to stay healthy. We owe a great deal of gratitude to the owners, we all need to keep them up to date on the horses and the situation.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

I am not sure where racing will be in three months. I am hopeful there is a silver lining somewhere in this nasty situation. Maybe it’s the stake races getting pushed back some and allowing the young ones more time to develop, maybe it could mean a more robust group of 3-year-olds? Maybe we take this time to find out what our customers really want and expect.

KENTUCKY

Adam Bowden / Diamond Creek Farms

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

I live in Kentucky, but travel back and forth to Pennsylvania. We are locked in the house as best we can and doing our civic duty by social distancing.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

Schools are closed, bars and restaurants are closed for dining in, but okay for takeout. Apps like Uber Eats and GrubHub are doing really well. Toilet paper is still in short supply. Sometimes it feels like we are reporting from a war zone.

3. How has it impacted your work in the industry, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

Our work as a breeding farm has not changed, but we have spent considerable time and resources over the past few days working on contingency plans to make sure our clients have access to the stallions they are booked to. As of right now, it’s business as usual (with a few minor changes) but as the shut downs continue I would think it would begin affecting the racing season.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

So far everyone we work with has been understanding and patient, which is the only way we can all behave. It is a very unorthodox situation, but society’s health must remain a top priority and even if the younger generations are at less of a risk (which I consider myself to be in), we owe the older generations the respect and courtesy to do our part to stop the spread.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

My hope is that the racing season will continue on as planned even if it is spectator free to start. There is a lot of money tied up in the horses in training and it would be a shame to not be able to race. I hope by mid-summer we are in a place to start relaxing restrictions and beginning to enjoy a more normal existence.

Art Zubrod / Brittany Farms

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

We’re in Woodford Co., KY. Both children and kids live in Oldham Co about an hour away. We normally see them and the grandkids weekly, but are laying low for a couple of weeks. We have shortened the hours a bit in the office to relieve some stress on staff.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

Twenty-two positives in Kentucky, several in the Bluegrass area. All restaurants are closed for eat in. Grocery stores have empty shelves. Schools are closed and lots of businesses are working from home. It’s very quiet. Eerily quiet. Our governor has been great. Twice daily press conferences. He has said repeatedly that he hopes he gets accused of going too far. That way he knows he went far enough.

3. How has it impacted your work in the industry, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

Absolutely no changes yet and I don’t see any major changes. Living in Kentucky and having livestock I’m sure all of our employees will be able to come to work. My biggest concern is flights being cancelled and semen not arriving. We actually send most of our mares out to be bred. So if flights become an issue I will send the rest of the mares out.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

My best advice is to take this very seriously. Not sure how to be of help to one another.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

I have no idea where we will be for the rest of the year regarding racing or breeding but we will have a better handle on things in six weeks or so.

NEW JERSEY

Dave Brower / The Meadowlands

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

I am home in my apartment in Parsippany, NJ. I have a second job as the nighttime manager of a high-end supermarket, Kings, located in Garwood, NJ. I’m taking every shift I can get, since we don’t know when we will go back to racing at the Meadowlands. Why stay home, when you can work? My mother lives in Toms River, down the shore, and is trying to transition into an assisted-living facility nearby. We’re hoping that will happen before the end of the month. My sister operates her own business, legal nurse consulting. She’ll be okay.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

The situation is eerie. I drove home from the store last night at 10:30, (after the “curfew”) and roads were mostly empty. Normally, I wake up and see most cars gone out of my complex to go to work. Most people are staying home. That’s probably a good thing.

3. How has it impacted your work in the industry, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

Obviously, I have no work at the Meadowlands right now. We are totally at the discretion of the state of NJ and we can’t do anything, until they tell us we can. We’d love to race, even if no spectators, but we completely understand why we can’t. Oh well! As far as the future, we can only hope that we get to go back to work before our major summer stakes season. Nobody wants to miss that, but it is what it is, and we will be ready to do our jobs when called back.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

I guess I’d just like to see everybody support the tracks that ARE racing! In Ohio. In Maryland. Many of us are at home doing nothing, so go ahead and throw a few bucks in your betting account and support those products. Not sure how long it will last, but a distraction is a nice thing right about now.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

I’ll be “optimistic” here and say that we’re back to somewhat normalcy, racing 2-year-olds in the Sires Stakes, The Meadowlands Pace, and Hambo. That would be great. And, I wish we could sign up for that right now.

Chris Ryder / Trainer

It’s Tuesday, March 17th and no leadership to be found. I’m a trainer with horses to race, condition sheets are up, I enter them here, I enter them there, and bingo NOTHING happens. No notifications until 9.00 pm at night or the next day, if you’re lucky. I have no problem if tracks don’t want to race, but just tell us, don’t put a condition sheet out and then tomorrow pull the plug!

We all know what they are saying ,is that it’s all day to day and that’s the best they can make of it. Maybe they are right. Now that I have my grumblings out of the way, lets add my thoughts.

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

I’m training 35 horses at Winners Training Center in Chesterfield, New Jersey. My family and I are healthy. Everything is basically shut down, no racing and doesn’t look like it for three or four weeks, but who really knows?

2. What is the situation like in your area?

The main problem is not knowing when we will see the CURVE in the virus decrease. They keep saying about the curve, that it needs to spike and decrease, well I’ve never seen this curve the news pundits keep on about. Someone please put it on the TV screen, maybe I need to just GOOGLE the thing.

3. How has it impacted your work in the industry, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

It’s a wait and see situation. I’ve backed way off now on my training, of course, on the racehorses. On the other hand, suppose they surprisingly start back up in three weeks, you then need to be ready to rumble.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

I think we should do all we can to help people out at times like this, and it should start close to home. If I have to turn horses out and lay off staff it’s a bad situation, but obviously we would hire them right back again when ready, and make sure they are okay in the meantime.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

I have to think positively and believe racing will kick back in, and maybe be more appreciated, just hoping!

I am worried that horsepeople will run out of cash quickly and there in is the beginnings of real hardship, at that point what happens? Is there a government program to help out?

I’ve heard it said over the years that the USTA has a large amount of cash. If that’s the case, wouldn’t it be best funded back into our community? Why not, if it’s our money. If I am way off here, please explain.

Hopefully in two to three months we are up and racing, and will be thrilled to do so, especially now that I will not have to compete against horses that are racing with performing enhancing meds.

Wonder how much money that has costs the honest horseman / owners, not to mention BETTORS WISH. Did it cost him Horse of the Year? I believe so!

This is common flu and the globe is shutting down. Yes, Fusco family hit tragically.

Owners want horses turned out, no training, how can we continue to stake them? It should be delayed.

Yannick Gingras / Driver

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

We are at home in Allentown, NJ. It’s definitely a big change as we are an active family, but we are making the best of it.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

It’s not bad around us but it’s a little nerve racking

3. How has it impacted your work in the industry, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

We are not racing right now. What I’m most worried about is if this last months, most trainers will not be able to afford feeding the horses and paying the help. I certainly hope we are back racing before then but I’m far from sure it will be the case.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

Fingers crossed and hope everyone stays safe

Jason Settlemoir / Meadowlands COO

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

I am working from home in Cream Ridge, NJ. My younger son Travis is home and currently attending classes for school through “Google Meet”. School was closed this past Friday, March 13th for the foreseeable future. We announced the closures of all four of our properties soon thereafter at the requests of our government officials.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

My biggest concern is the health and safety of our employees, customers and horsemen and women. That has always been and continues to be my number one priority.

3. How has it impacted your work in the industry, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

Everything came all at once! I don’t think anyone was really prepared for what was happening. The whole situation is a nightmare that won’t end. So many tough decisions and to make them really fastwith instinct.I say it all the time, and it’s worth saying again, working for a guy like Jeff Gural makes it a lot easier because he seems always prepared with what to do in the best and worst of times like these.
I have daily am briefings with my entire management team and answer calls, texts and emails from all four properties day and night. Jeff Gural and I speak to each other a couple times a day. It’s not much different than being in the office as I am always accessible. Everyone has my cell number, and email address so not much has changed other than personally seeing everyone (which honestly I do miss seeing everyone).

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

The situation in our area in NJ and in our country is still evolving and fluid as our government officials and medical professionals try to get their arms around COVID-19. Governor Murphy and his team have done atremendousjob in keeping everyone up to date with the situation here in NJ and has made some very tough decisions for our state to keep us safe and healthy. I’m comfortable with him doing what is best for everyone.

My concern is like everyone else outside of the safety of everyone. When will we be able to shift gears and move forward? That’s the biggest question.When will life return to normal? What will the new normal look like? The horse racing community is resilient so I have no doubt we will all work together to find solutions to all the tasks at hand.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

In two to three months,I see harness racing moving forward just like everything else. Remembering the past but moving forward with much more of an eye on the future.

I would like to thank everyone within our sport who have called, texted and emailed to check on Travis andme.We are doing just fine. I actually plan on doing some hiking on Friday, something I haven’t done in a long time. It’sforecastto be in the mid 70’s so I will keep my distance and do a little hiking. We wish everyone the best in safety and health in these troubled times.

Nancy Takter / Trainer

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

Allentown NJ. So far copping pretty good with the situation. Ella has spring break and MJ has virtual learning since the schools are closed. Pretty much home – barn – home as of now.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

NJ has closed all schools and pretty much all public places. There is an 8pm curfew in effect state wide. And no racing. Last time I went to the grocery store shelves were bare but Amazon still delivers and so does Grubhub.

3. How has it impacted your work in the industry, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

My day to day work hasn’t changed at all besides trying to figure out how much I should push my 3 and up horses not knowing when they will race. At least if we had a timeline it would make things a little easier. The 2-year-olds are all on the same schedule they would’ve been regardless of the virus and shutdown.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

I think the main thing is to stay home if you feel sick. In our business we are all brainwashed and go to work no matter what, but this time to slow the curve of the virus stay HOME! Horsemen are helpful they will make sure you’re horses are fed and watered if you are sick.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

I see a lot of qualifiers in the future but I hope I am wrong! I think tracks all over could continue to race with smart management and people being responsible! For example, one small thing in paddocks if they separated the horses by barn instead of race then at least the people from the same barns are the ones closest to each other. I think it would be a good opportunity for us to showcase our sport. It would require the media/TV personnel to step up their game and educate, too. We could get exposure to a whole new fan base that needs educating. I think lots of people would love this sport but so many don’t even know what it is! I hope we are back to “normal” soon but when we go back to “normal” that everyone appreciates our sport and the pro ledge that we have to participate in it!

Linda Toscano / Trainer

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

We are home in NJ and aside from the same things that everyone else is dealing with, we are still working and training and, minus racing, which is minimal for our stable this time of year, we are doing well.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

It is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. There are no restaurants, take out only, Grocery limitations and literally no traffic on the roads. But our small horse community has been hit hard with this virus and we have lost people that we know and cared about. Groceries and eating out are really not important in that context.

3. How has it impacted your work in the industry, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

As I said before, we’re kind of going along business as usual this time of year. As it goes on it will impact our lives much more. We’re getting horses ready to race a stake season that may or may not exist this year. We’ll take it one day at a time and hope for the best.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

We may be fierce competitors on the race track, but we help each other, and I think we have a way of coming together to help anyone that needs our help. We should do as instructed… use our local vendors, help our local restaurants, and chip in where help is needed in and off the track.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

I hope to see us all healthy and getting back to business as usual. However long it takes, we will get there.

NEW YORK

Tim Bojarski / Publicist

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

Although I live in western New York, not far from Batavia, my “day job” is on the other side of the county, not too far from Niagara Falls, so I cover a lot of miles every day. Right now in Erie County there are 29 individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 from the 523 tests that were taken.

So far everyone in my family (two of which are working from home) has managed to stay healthy here, as well as my daughter who lives in Las Vegas, who is dealing with very similar restrictions out west.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

There is a very high sense of trepidation in the area, especially after all the restaurants and entertainment outlets were closed down yesterday and all businesses were told to cut their employment occupancy to 25 per cent this afternoon. However, where I work, although seeing around 1,000 associates go in and out of their door during any 24-hour period, has somehow not complied with the order.

3. How has it impacted your work in the industry, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

Clearly my jobs in the industry have been affected with all that is going on. Plainridge Park has pushed back their planned April 6 opening to a date that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has yet to determine and with no racing currently taking place in western New York, the opening of Batavia Downs is also very much in question, depending on how long the current shut-downs continue.

My four horses training at Gaitway Farm are waiting to find out where they’ll be going. After making a couple early starts at Freehold, they were going to be on their way to Massachusetts the first week of April. However, that’s all on hold now and like everyone else, It’s a wait-and-see situation before any firm plans can be made.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

Every trainer and owner I talk to is feeling the pinch of no racing (some more than others) as the bills still come in and there is no purse money to offset those expenses. But I think it’s important to remember that the most important thing we need to do is assure the welfare of all our horses. We have to make sure they get what they need because they are still working; staying fit for when the prohibition ends and they can resume their careers earning us money. And it might be a good idea if you know someone who is struggling to properly feed or bed their horse, maybe help a brother or sister out and offer them what they need in the short term so none of our athletes go without during this very difficult time.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

Hopefully when this current crisis passes (and it will end at some time) the industry will fully recover and all of its participants will still be viable. We are currently getting a lot of attention in the betting world from the tracks that have continued to race and maybe that will bode well for new customers and fans in the future.

I think the thing to remember during this dark time is its only money being lost and money can always be made. It’s people’s lives we can’t afford to lose because you can’t put a price on those.

Finally, let’s all pray for the Fusco family.

Jeff Gural / Track owner, horse owner, breeder

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

I am in my farm in Dutchess County. However, I do go into the city for physical therapy.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

At my farm obviously quiet.

3. How has it impacted your work in the industry, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

All of my three tracks are shut down and financially we are losing a fortune.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

I have no idea other then we need, where possible, to allow the people who are in trouble to defer payments.

As a breeder right now it seems little impact but would expect sales prices to decline based on crash of stock market and economy.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

No idea how long this will last but at the Big M if it lasts long will try to see if they will allow us to race with no customers. Tioga and Vernon will remain closed till the casino is allowed to reopen.

OHIO

Kevin Greenfield / Hickory Lane

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

I am working remotely at home with my law practice and stallion syndications. I am set up well at home to do what I need to do. My wife is on the front lines. She is a nurse working at the designated Coronavirus hospital in Toledo, OH, Bay Park Hospital. They have just received their first patients. Obviously, I am very worried for her safety.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

Our area, Northwest Ohio, is just beginning to be impacted. I suspect things will accelerate in the near future.

3. How has it impacted your work in the industry, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

At Hickory Lane, so far so good, business as usual. My staff which includes farm manager Brad Wallace, assistant farm manager Taylor Wise, office manager, Ashley Stickel, and administrative assistant and assistant office manager Kelsey Grose and the rest of the employees are true professionals. Their dedication is unbelievable and they have instituted social distancing measures; semen pick up is targeted far away from the main office and traffic areas and we have limited access to the farm for ingress and egress for visitors and customers. So far, God willing, all are healthy

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

There are just a few breeding farms in our area along with the University of Findlay Equestrian College. I encourage communication to make sure everyone has ample manpower to take care of the animals in case anyone gets sick and needs to be isolated.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

I think racing can continue without crowds and still simulcast, at least that is what is taking place in Ohio. However, with the casinos closed, I feel purses must be drastically reduced until this crisis passes. I am more worried about the fall yearling sales. In Ohio, we are featuring yearlings by five new stallions: Downbytheseaside, Fear The Dragon, What The Hill, Long Tom and Creatine. It should be our most spectacular healing sale ever. I just pray things clear up before the Fall. God bless to all and I hope everyone survives this nightmare.

Joe McLead / Sugar Valley Farm

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

I am located at the farm in Delaware, OH. My family and staff are all healthy at this time.

When it comes to coping with COVID-19, we are all just coping with it day to day as we adhere to all of the info we get from our Governor who is doing a PHENOMENAL job.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

The situation is day to day just like everywhere else. Our county has two confirmed cases and the State of Ohio has 119 confirmed as of 2:30 (Thursday). Our Governor is asking everyone to stay home if you can, but nothing is mandatory yet.

3. How has it impacted your work in the industry, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

It has not really changed anything at our farm yet, We are taking all of the precautions seriously! Last Friday, we change to allow no visitors to the farm. Our office is not open to the public. Only staff is allowed in the office. In the office and lab we are wearing masks just as a precaution since we have to go home to our families. It is just a precaution. It is breeding season and we have an obligation to our customers as well as ourselves so we are just taking extra precautions. If one of our clients wants to come see their horses, they are more than welcome to, they just have to pee outside! LOL. Other than that, it is business as usual.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

Hope and Prayer. This will pass as time goes on. Just keep a clear head and do as they suggest. If you follow what the health experts suggest you are doing your part.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

The industry in 2-3 months will be dictated by how long this pandemic lasts. We as an industry will rebound once we are allowed to commence in a normal capacity. We have persevered through many different challenges in the last 40 years. We have an opportunity through this time to actually look at ourselves in the mirror and come back with a more viable product and make the changes that we can to move forward in a positive way.

Wendy Ross / USTA

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

I am located in Columbus, OH where I live with my boyfriend Brady Galliers. He trains a barn of 12 in Ohio and also drives. We are dealing with social distancing well. LOL. Brady’s parents live in Toledo, OH and work full-time, and are both older, so we worry for them staying safe. My dad lives with my brother in Youngstown, OH and is at risk for the virus (68, healthy but vulnerable). It is a very stressful time just wondering how long and how bad can it really get. I, for one, am a believer that it is serious and we all need to do our part to keep each other safe.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

In Ohio we are racing, both Northfield and MVG are taking the precautions from the state to be able to keep going. So many want and NEED to race, so it is a tricky situation of what is the right thing to do. The purses were cut at MVG by 20% with the casino being shut down. I own a few horses and with Brady depending on his barn and drives for his income, I am torn on what is right and what is safe at this point. No one has tested positive from the tracks and I hope it stays that way. Nothing to say that our status could change at any moment so- fingers crossed.

3. How has it impacted your work in the industry, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

It has impacted us in our lack of content with no racing. We now are trying to make positive and informative messages for those throughout the industry. Right now we are usually talking Levy (MGM Borgata), but not the case. We have put out things to target the kids at home with their parents. With only a few tracks left in the game right now we are trying to promote them the best we can with free PPs. We are also working closely with the horsemen associations for ideas on how to get racing on mainstream TV with it being the only sport in town.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

I believe in this situation the best we can do is listen to the government. Stay safe and avoid people as much as they can. We want this to go away and things to go back to normal. I believe owners and employers can all step up and take care of each other. Owners helping trainers and then trainers can keep their crew hired. Weird as the drivers make the most with no big costs, but they are definitely going to feel a big hit. If someone is struggling, lend them a hand, a bale of hay, a bag of feed. Farms could cut down their stall rent. Tough spot for everyone and I hope we can make it through it.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

In two-three months I feel we will all be playing catch-up to get horses fit and in shape for stake season. I hope the horsemen that have not been racing were able to survive financially. I lived through The Meadows Herpes event two years ago, we had 12 horses and no racing. It broke us financially and emotionally so I have a personal experience of what a situation such as this can do and take when it happens. The big owners and trainers will be fine, but the smaller stables will feel it the most. We also cannot forget the racetracks and casinos that depend on each other for revenue and racing.

Mike Tanner / USTA

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

I’m back in central Ohio and likely will be for the next few weeks, at least. I’ve either cleared my calendar of any non-essential travel or the conferences that I was slated to attend have been canceled. Like everyone else, my wife and I are following the suggestions of the CDC, largely staying at home, practicing social distancing when we do go out, and washing our hands frequently. We’re worried about our three kids, all of whom are adults and two of whom are raising families. The restrictions are about to cause some financial challenges for the latter two, and we’ll help as best as we can.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

Governor DeWine declared a state health emergency, so all sorts of things are closed – bars, restaurants, fitness centers, libraries, movie theaters – you name it. Our presidential primary election has even been postponed. Everything feels unsettled, so not “normal,” but it’s everywhere. We’re all in this together.

3. How has it impacted your work in the industry, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

Earlier this week, we instituted a work-from-home policy (at the USTA) that has resulted in about 85-90 per cent of our employees not coming to the office, instead performing their functions remotely. We implemented a no-visitors policy the same day. There’s maybe six of us in the building today, and we’re spread out all over the place, largely keeping away from each other. It’s kind of surreal, honestly, but our service delivery has been uninterrupted and without issues. We have a great staff and had an emergency preparation plan already in place, so I’m happy but not surprised with how the transition has gone. Looking ahead, my worries are primarily external. Our members need to race in order to earn a living. If they can’t race, that puts a lot of hard-working people in a bad spot. The longer the restrictions stay in place, the worse it will get for the industry and its participants.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

The most practical thing to do is to listen to the experts, follow the suggestions, and help to stop the spread of the virus. Flatten the curve, so to speak, so that our national health system isn’t overwhelmed. The quicker we can do that, the faster we can start to get our lives back. And stay safe. We lost a director, John Brennan, last week to the coronavirus. This thing is real. As for others, practice kindness. If someone’s in trouble and you can help in some way, however minor, do so. Harness racing is a small industry, relatively speaking, but with a big heart. Let’s take care of each other.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

Good question. Ideally, we’re looking back on March and April and saying, wow, I’m so glad that’s over and we’re back to racing! Even if that’s the case, though, I expect that the recovery, at least from a numerical standpoint, will be slower. Things won’t just immediately return to where they were, as if nothing happened.

Jay Wolf / Little Brown Jug

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

My family and I are hunkered down in our home in Delaware, OH. My daughter’s high school has been cancelled for a few weeks. My son’s college classes are now online and my wife and I are required to work at home.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has been fairly aggressive with restrictions. Restaurants can only be pick-up or delivery only. The grocery stores are fairly empty for the staple items of canned goods, paper products and meat. Gasoline prices are way down because no one is traveling.

3. How has it impacted your work, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

My wife and I work for the same bank and we are used to working remotely. I miss the interactions with my associates and not having the ability to go where I want. As for my harness racing interests, I am now working on Little Brown Jug items and completing tasks that I normally would do in June and July. We are getting ready for the 75thJug so, we have plenty to do. I have been watching action from tracks that I normally don’t follow (Saratoga, Rosecroft and Western Fair to name a few) because there was so few tracks racing.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

Knowing what to do and how to help our fellow harness racing is difficult at this time. When there is a barn fire, the damage is done once and you know what is needed. We have no idea how long this work stoppage will last. I would suggest that horsemen work with their bank or lenders to see if they can defer or postpone payments on truck or property loans. I am typically not a huge bettor, but I will be making more plays once racing resumes to do my part.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

Optimistically, I see all the racing returning in the next 2-3 months. Unlike the thoroughbreds, I think we will see stakes and events that were postponed not be rescheduled. Once racing resumes, I could see some meets lasting longer, but few added dates during the scheduled meet due to the shortage of horses. Normally when races are cancelled the purse fund grows, but with the casinos also closed, the purses should remain flat or even slightly down. I hope jurisdictions would reduce licensing fees and use their fine fund to help the caretakers and other workers.

ONTARIO

Matt Harrison / Tara Hills Stud

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

My family and I are located in Port Perry, ON about an hour northeast of Toronto. We’re doing our best to follow the directions of the government and health organizations. Not too difficult seeing as everything is pretty much shut down anyways. We’re fortunate to be able to rely on our family to take care of the kids while I and my better half go to work each day.

I’m well versed at practicing “social distancing”. I’ve been doing it between January and July my whole career along with many of my colleagues in the breeding sector. Social distancing sounds a lot better than being deemed antisocial!

2. What is the situation like in your area?

The area surrounding Port Perry (Durham Region) hasn’t had many cases of Coronavirus reported last I checked. Maybe three? It’s pretty rural here. Lots of farms. Not a very dense population.

3. How has it impacted your work at Tara Hills, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

At the moment the breeding season is continuing. We haven’t had any issues yet servicing our customers in the U.S. and Canada.

On farm we have implemented isolation protocols trying keep our social distances from customers coming to the farm. We’re restricting access to the building and leaving boxes outside for pickup. We’re handling boxes with gloves and cleaning and disinfecting as much as possible.

One concern would be a complete shutdown of the border and/or suspension of service by FedEx or the airlines.

Another obvious primary concern would be the spread of the virus to a member of the Tara Hills team. The implications of this would be disastrous.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

I would ask that we all do our part and take the directions of the health community seriously. We’ve already seen several tragic deaths of members of our racing family. Already too many! If we can work together we’ll get through this sooner and back to racing.

I have great confidence in the harness racing community to help and support one another. I’ve met so many people in this industry over the years who wouldn’t pause a second to give their fellow person the proverbial shirt off their back!

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

The optimist in me is hoping we’ll be looking at this pandemic in the rear view mirror and life will be returning to normal. I look so forward to the baby races in June. It’s that little carrot to get me through the last weeks of the breeding season.

Mark Horner / Trainer

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

Myself and my family is in St. Marys, ON. Small towns are slowing down for sure but all seems well.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

As far as I know, factories and business are operating, restaurants and bars are closed except drive thru and delivery, public places seem much slower for sure.

3. How has it impacted your work, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

Our farm is operating as usual at this time. Our training has not changed, but our staff is being proactive as in distancing from each other as much as possible and disinfecting as much as possible to keep each other safe. I’ve been in discussions with management mainly at Western Fair daily on screening and disinfectant being used as much as possible in the paddock.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

As for the industry as a whole I hope and know we will get through this intact as it looks at this point possible we could be heading for a shut down. In the event of that, I’m urging leaders to develop and investigate what possible help will be provided by government in the way of self-employment assistance and small business aid which will be made available in the near future. Also, as far as horse welfare, be diligent on feed hay bedding. Contact your local feed dealers to make sure delivery and feed will continue to be made. Also, I advise cut all unnecessary expenses for now. We have no idea how long this may last. Hope for the best, expect the worst and contact owners and partners and make a plan.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

We absolutely pray for a quick resolution to the situation as I see the industry at this time it is entirely possible that once we are shut down it could last well into the summer. Unfortunately, some may not be able to afford the down time. If that is the case, as an industry we will have to come together to look into different support solutions and make plans as we come out the other side. I’m going to do everything I can to see our industry not just survive but thrive. We are all in this together. For now, stay healthy, stay diligent, let’s work together and God bless us all and our great athletes.

Anthony MacDonald / TheStable.ca

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

Trying to explain to the kids what is happening, and why we are all staying indoors is tough. It’s hard to articulate to a 6-year-old how eating a bat in China led to people being sick all over the world, by with the help of Alexa we are getting by.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

For the most part in Guelph, ON it appears business as usual. With the kids home, traffic is lighter but the Starbucks drive thru by our house is still packed. I think it’s more a sense of disbelief as no one knows if this is something that will explode here also or something we will see more on the news.

3. How has it impacted your work, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

Work at the barn appears unaffected thus far, but the reality that things could grind to a halt any moment is terrifying. Truthfully, most people in our industry live check to check, so no racing puts most barns in jeopardy. It really is a scary time for everyone inside and outside racing.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

You’re right there. Horse racing houses some of the most durable humans I’ve ever met. If we listen to what the scientists are saying, and be vigilant, hopefully this will all be over soon.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

Hopefully in 2-3 months the stakes are starting and we all have horror stories to tell our kids and grandkids about the time the earth stood still in 2020.

Blake MacIntosh / Trainer

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

I’m in Ontario. We are stabled at Meadowbranch right behind Flamboro. Leanne and I are just taking it day by day, She is off because she is a teacher. I go to the barn and come right back home.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

It’s not that bad right now. Other then everyone panicking and the news we are pretty normal. We had to cancel a cruise and I postponed a guy’s trip to Vegas before stake season at the end of April.

3. How has it impacted your work, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

I haven’t been able to get to the New York barn so the not being able to train the 3-year-olds that are there getting ready for the upcoming stake season has been tougher, but Jessica Dowse does a great job as my trainer down there and I have the upmost confidence in her. Also, we have been stopped racing there with most of our horses as all the tracks but Saratoga are not racing.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

Keep your head up. Wash your hands like they say and do the social distancing they have asked. Everyone remember this is a time of need and help everyone you can.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

I’m hoping in 2-3 months we are back on track I know the stakes schedule will have to change a bit at this time, but let’s hope it’s all gets together by the summer and life can carry on.

Bob McClure / Driver

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

I’m at home, me and my wife are trying to avoid going out in public unless absolutely necessary.

Obviously we made the decision to keep our son home from daycare and he is not straying far from home.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

The situation is getting more and more real by the day. It seems like small numbers but expanding at an alarming rate. We seem to be following in footsteps of countries and other places that have been hit very hard. Everyone is being told to isolate and hopefully everyone does that to the best they are able.

3. How has it impacted your work, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

It hasn’t affected me yet, work-wise, but I believe it’s about to. I think it won’t be long before we’re are forced to stop racing and isolate, a sacrifice I will happily make to keep my family safe and reduce the spread.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

I think a major problem the industry will face in the coming months is the fact that a lot of participants are literally cheque to cheque… they cannot go without work. I worry that many grooms may be laid off, trainers may have to reduce fees and owners will have a hard time fronting the cost of just “keeping horses” that can’t race. Hopefully government and track officials can figure something out so that nobody is put out in the cold.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

Interesting enough, I spoke to an owner today that had a very good 3-year-old ready to qualify and he simply didn’t see a point because he felt the season may not start until September.

I think that sounds pretty drastic but then looking at other leagues around the world, that may very well be a reality

Doug McNair / Driver

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

I’ve been just staying home in Arkell, ON here by myself. My dad is still in Florida.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

It’s obviously not normal but I think everyone is doing what they can. It’s different having stores and restaurants closed and there is hardly any traffic.

3. How has it impacted your work, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

(Answered before Mohawk and Western Fair postponed racing) We’ve been fortunate enough to continue racing. So it really hasn’t affected us in Ontario to this point.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

I think the social distance thing is huge. Staying away from malls and big gatherings is what will help this calm down a little bit I hope! We got to make sure we stay away from the paddock if we’re not feeling well. Or visiting other people whose chances of fighting this virus isn’t as good as ours.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

I think they are getting better news from China. Eighty per cent of the people there have recovered from the virus and hopefully things are starting to get back to normal there and hopefully it will be the same here in North America within the next month to six weeks. But who knows? Time will tell. We’ve never seen something like this before and hopefully never will again, or will be more prepared next time if it happens again.

Bill O’Donnell / COSA president

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

Well, we’re at the COSA office, but I think we’re considered non-essential so we’ll have to get out of here and take some stuff home. We just came down to get some stuff here today and then we’ll take it home and work from there and do the best we can.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

It’s getting close, it seems like… and they’ve got a screening process for testing at the hospital in Guelph now. I can’t imagine how many people are going to show up there that don’t have it, right? And the screening process, it’s only as good as the person asking and answering the questions.

3. How has it impacted your work, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

Lots of calls, that’s all I can tell you, the concerns of people… The hard part, with yesterday and the Premier’s emergency plan that says no more than 50 people in an area, and we’ve got a tremendous big area (at Mohawk)). We’ve probably got 40,000 square feet, but the plan is the plan to keep it below 50 people and do the best you can and ask people to be very diligent in what they are doing.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

Space it out in the paddock, tell people ‘just don’t conjure in a group’, just stay away from one another.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

They’ve cancelled all kinds of events from now until next September. I was listening to a disease specialist from the University of Calgary and she said that her best case guess is September.

Jason Portuondo / Woodbine

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

I’m located in Mississauga, ON. So far, it’s been great, taking advantage of the extra family time.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

Things are quieter than usual as one would expect. Grocery stores are busier with some panicking but overall we’re good.

3. How has it impacted your work, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

(Answered prior to the announcement Woodbine Mohawk Park was postponing live racing effective March 20). We’re doing the social distancing thing, so working from home like many. I’m still providing picks/tickets and adding insight through social media ie Twitter, Skype. I’m not too concerned right now, we’re adjusting with the times and taking measures necessary to keep the industry going. These horses still need to be fed, cared for etc., and the purses definitely help the cause. Racing is also a great escape from reality. This might actually get some new eyes on the sport.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

We all have to do our part to flatten the curve. Social distancing is so important for everyone. But also pick up the phone, FaceTime, stay connected to your friends, colleagues and loved ones. It’s really great to see everyone come together in a time of need… need more of this.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

Hopefully in the next few months things are back to normal. Fans miss being at the races and racing misses its fans. I really feel like things will be even better than before all of this happened…not just in racing but life overall.

Ann Straatman / Seelster Farms

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

Seelster Farms is located in southwestern Ontario near London. We have had many discussions over the last few days contemplating what we will do to protect our farm family from the spread of COVID-19. This morning at our regular team meeting to start the day, we discussed the importance that if anyone is feeling unwell with the virus symptoms, they should feel secure and stay home.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

In our area, the ever increasing restrictions are changing daily, as are the number of positive virus cases identified in our region.

3. How has it impacted your work, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

So far at Seelster, it has been business as usual, but we have taken steps to restrict visitors to only those picking up and dropping off mares for breeding. We’ve also tried to protect our office staff by creating a pick up window for semen orders. We would like to thank everyone for respecting those restrictions, so that we can continue our work here to get the hundreds of mares booked in foal.

We’re worried most for our staff and having them remain healthy. We have an exceptional team and we couldn’t do what we do without them.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

I would suggest that everyone take care to seriously follow the advice of the health care professionals in your area to keep those around you safe. Check on your neighbours by phone, make sure everyone can look after themselves as well as their horses.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

I’m hopeful that in three months we will be grateful for our family, friends, and horses as our sport and the world moves forward because we took the time now to slow the spread of the novel Coronavirus.

Adriano Sorella / Owner, breeder

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

Currently I’m at my home in Guelph, Ontario. I work remotely so there is not much that has changed in regards to that. I already have an office set up here and I’m still able to connect with clients worldwide through the usual email and Skype. I’ve stayed home the last couple of days, so this will be a challenge as I do like get out often. I’m taking these precautions seriously, and hope others do as well.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

From what I can see people are starting to realize we need to do what’s right for everyone, and that means our families and friends as well. I haven’t had issues getting groceries or any of that. In fact, I just had a home delivery this morning, and I’ve already put an order in for next week, which is usually what I do anyways. I do see concerns on the financial aspect for many people, especially some of our caretakers and overall staff within the industry. I’m hopeful that as the days go by, we learn of new ways to help or assist anyone that might really be struggling.

3. How has it impacted your work, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

I understand this needs to get under control, so if we shut down racing I will support that decision. Being close to Woodbine Mohawk Park, I see the changes they implemented and am hopeful it will be followed by everyone. In regards to breeding, I spoke to Pat Woods at Winbak Ontario and we discussed if there could be any implications, however as of right now we are good. Stallion bookings are coming in steady, semen is being shipped with no issues, and all systems are still good. I’ve spoken to some breeders who have bred to Jimmy Freight and everyone seems to be excited, and carrying forward.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

I really think the industry needs owners to step up right now. If there is any shut downs in racing and we can’t race, I think we need to look after our caretakers, trainers and staff. I know this is a huge undertaking for owners who will have horses sitting, however I believe someone should step up here. I posted several days ago that If racing had to be put on hold, I would reach out to my trainers that are currently racing horses, and ask them to continue billing me as if we are racing. I want caretakers to still get some restitution in the form of paddocks and win tips, even if we are not racing. Caretakers losing that part of income could be catastrophic for the industry, as we simply do not have enough hands to start off with. We could simply add “X” amount of paddocks and win tips onto the training bills, then have that distributed to caretakers. PLEASE! I urge fellow owners to do the same.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

I’m hopeful that we can get back to racing within reasonable time. This is a world-wide issue and many businesses have been put on hold in order for people to restructure how they operate. I’m confident that everyone working together will make the difference on how fast we get back to our regular lives. So put down the toilet paper and take a deep breath…. Be smart, not foolish…. And your mom probably always told you to wash your hands, so you don’t need me to preach it to you. Cheers to you all. See you in the winner’s circle.

PENNSYLVANIA

Mark Weaver / Owner

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

Near The Meadows. We’re all fine and just trying to pass the time each day. Our dog is really enjoying all of us being home.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

I would imagine our area is pretty typical of most others right now. Not much going on, but I don’t see much panic. I guess that’s the goal.

3. How has it impacted your work, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

It has hurt quite a bit with racing being down out East, especially with the Levy and Matchmaker getting ready to start. The spring is always a tough grind for a lot of us with stake payments and limited races for big purses. I don’t think anyone really knows how long this will last. I’ve tried to look at the timeline for China and Italy to get an idea of when things will get back to normal but there are too many differences in each situation. We’ll just play it by ear.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

That’s a tough one. I think everyone is going to take a little bit of a haircut but hopefully we get through it. A few tracks went through something similar a couple years ago with equine herpes and it all worked out. If needed, I would be all for putting a group together to create a no interest loan to help people in need that they could pay back as they earn purse money over an extended period of time. President Trump is also suggesting assisting those in need so that could help too.

5. Where do you see the harness racing industry in 2-3 months?

Hopefully back to normal! I actually just reached out to some people a lot smarter to me to see if they were thinking about changes to stakes races and possibly delaying stakes payments. Depending on how long the shutdown lasts, it would be great to be able to get everything raced without being on top of each other. Most importantly, I hope the people that are high risk are able to stay safe.

Heather Wilder / The Meadows

1. Where are you located right now and how are you and your family coping with the COVID-19 situation?

We are all here in Pennsylvania on our farm close to The Meadows Racetrack. The girls have cleaned and re-organized our home from top to bottom and we are going to start painting the barn next week. We are trying to focus on projects that our busy schedule does not allow for typically. We are taking a lot of walks on the farm as a family and spending as much valuable time as we can together. Our daughters are soon to be 17 and 18, so they typically have a social schedule of their own. We lead very active lives and this is a chance for us to appreciate each other before the chaos sets back in.

2. What is the situation like in your area?

Currently, as of today, there have only been two confirmed cases in Washington County where we live. My sister and brother-in-law are both doctors, and they are of course dealing with a lot of stress and fear. So many people are wanting to be tested and the kits are being reserved for those that are in the highest risk demographic. They are not taking the situation lightly and are every day preparing for the possibility that large groups of people could become very sick.

3. How has it impacted your work, so far, and what are you most concerned about in the weeks and months ahead?

The morning schedule at The Meadows has remained the same for our stable. We still believe that our horses need to be getting exercise, baths, vet care, blacksmiths, etc. We have not altered their program at all. We have always, and will continue to put their needs above our own.

Racing has been suspended until further notice. Mike typically works 14 hour days though, so this downtime is allowing him to take a brief afternoon nap, which he hates. The man has never been able to take a break in his life! What concerns me about this the most is the families that are in jeopardy of hardships due to economic constraints of the shutdown. We in Pennsylvania have been focusing a lot lately on all of the vocations and agriculture affected by harness racing. The Meadows racing community is a strong group, and we have dealt with extensive shut downs before, most recently the herpes epidemic, where we saw friends have to leave the industry to find work elsewhere. The problem this time is that there is no work to be found. It’s affecting everyone, not just our industry.

4. This is an industry big on hope and helping others. What suggestions can you offer for how people can help others in the industry through this crisis?

I think that to help each other we need to be conscious of the struggles others are dealing with. We need to give a level of grace and kindness to those that are worried about how they will feed their families and their animals. We are all a family and together I know that we are grieving the people that have been already taken by this virus. They aren’t just statistics on the TV, but people that we worked with and knew personally. Today, more than ever, it is important to help our fellow horsemen get through this time. There are numerous ways to show that love, monetarily and otherwise. Check on those in your local community, because I fear that mental health will be a serious issue as well. Offering a hug right now is not an option, so instead offer them your time to listen.

I believe harness racing is resilient and we will bounce back. I unfortunately do not have a clear picture of what that means two to three months down the road. I am praying that we lose no one else to the virus or secondarily to financial crisis.

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