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Albuquerque Downs gets ready for pandemic racing

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The New Mexico State Fair at Expo New Mexico won’t take place for the first time in its 82-year history, but the staff at the nearby Albuquerque Downs feels obligated to run its horse racing dates, starting on Saturday, said Don Cook, the president of racing.

“These horsemen haven’t been able to run for any money since the middle of March,” Cook, who has worked at Albuquerque Downs for 31 years, said Wednesday. “We have approximately $6 million in purse money. They need to get some money in their pockets because maintaining these horses every day without getting a shot to run at something is very expensive. It’s expensive for us to put this on too. But we feel it’s something that will help keep the heartbeat in this industry.”

Ten races are scheduled with the first post time of 1:30 p.m. After Saturday’s opener, the typical schedule will be Sunday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

Cook and the Downs staff have been preparing for the race days and making sure everyone is adhering to the public health order in the attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“We’ve done every guideline there is,” he said.

Jockeys who are from out of state are required to be tested for the coronavirus within 10 days of their race date and they are to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, following New Mexico guidelines put in place by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Testing in-state jockeys is not mandatory, but Cook said the Downs encourages those jockeys to be tested, especially since testing is available at the Expo fairgrounds.

Every person entering the barn area will have his/her temperature checked. All the jockeys will have temperatures checked. If any one has a temperature reaching as high as 101.7, they’re not allowed to enter. If that happens a second time, then a COVID-19 test will be required.

No fans will be allowed at Albuquerque Downs, but the Jockey Club and Turf Club on the third floor will be open for food service with patio seating available at 50% capacity. That comes out to about 260 people total, Cook said, and the seating is only available by reservation online at www.abqdowns.com. No more than four people are allowed to a table, and everyone must wear a mask.

Wagering, including simulcast (races on remote tracks), can also be made on the third floor. Online wagering for the Downs races and simulcast is available on a host of websites, including TVG and TwinSpires.

Cook said there were no thoughts of reducing the size of the fields in each race for safety reasons because “it was our job to get as many horses in each race as we can.”

Snapshots at the winner’s circle at the Albuquerque Downs should certainly have a unique look, typifying what is happening in New Mexico and across the nation. A maximum of six people will be allowed in the winner’s circle and masks must be worn.

Jockeys are also required to wear a face covering before and after the race, and encouraged to wear it during the race, Cook said.

The jockey room had to be renovated, Cook said, so that it would be in compliance with public-health-order guidelines. The sauna won’t be allowed for use this year.

One trainer and two grooms (stable hands) per horse are allowed in the paddock, the area where the horses are saddled.

Grooms must be seated in the lower bleachers. No one is allowed on the apron, the area near the paddock where people stand to watch the races.

No one is allowed on the rail.

The casino at Albuquerque Downs will remain closed.

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