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Marquis Downs misses first opening weekend in 51 years amid COVID-19 pandemic
SASKATOON -- Rick Fior couldn’t help but feel a little strange sitting at home on the night that the Marquis Downs racing season was supposed to begin.
“The Downs have been open here since 1969, we’ve never missed an opening weekend,” said Fior, the manager of racing.
Including the pair on opening weekend, Marquis Downs have had to cancel seven races because of the pandemic. As a recreational facility, they’re eligible to open in Phase Four of the province’s Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan.
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Fior says the process of beginning the season could prove difficult, as many of the horses that usually call Marquis Downs home have been taken to different provinces to race and train, while most jockeys don’t live in Saskatchewan.
“We still have about nine jockeys in limbo in Trinidad and Jamaica,” he said. “Of course with the travel ban being on and things like that, it’s hard to get them here, and once they get there they have to go into quarantine.”
Fior says even if the timeline of reopening with Phase Four allows for multiple weekends of racing—the season typically stretches into early September—there would still be insurmountable challenges.
“In one sense it could be feasible, but not with 30 people,” he said, referring to the Government of Saskatchewan’s cap on outdoor social gatherings.
Fior says Marquis Downs relies on revenue from admission, program sales, commission on wagering, and food and beverage, and 30 people a night wouldn’t cut it financially.
“We need 1,500 to 2,000. That generates all our revenue here.”
An announcement on whether or not horse racing will be able to return to Saskatoon in 2020 is expected soon, but Fior isn’t optimistic.
“There’s a very, very high percentage that there won’t be any racing at Marquis Downs this year.”