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Mike Cushing, president of the Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association, predicted there will be racing at Bangor Raceway in Bass Park this year — but he is not sure when.
Bangor Raceway was supposed to open in May. In addition, Bass Park is a drive-up testing site for COVID-19.
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Hollywood Casino Hotel and Raceway is owned by Gaming and Leisure Properties and operated by Penn National Gaming and the casino has been shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic since March 16.
Scarborough Downs opened for racing on Wednesday and will have live racing on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Post time is 1 p.m.
However, there are no fans allowed at Scarborough at this time.
“I’m certainly confident that there will be racing in Bangor. Penn National and the Bangor Raceway are doing what they can to have a plan in place to get it going again,” Cushing said.
“My suspicion is once the casino gets the green light to open, the green light for racing will follow [right behind],” he said.
Gov. Janet Mills has gradually lifted or reduced some of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions. She has allowed Penobscot County, where Bangor is the largest city, and 12 other counties to open restaurants for indoor dining. On June 12, several other businesses, including gyms and fitness centers, will be allowed to open.
There has not been an easing of restrictions on Maine’s two casinos in Bangor and Oxford.
Cushing attended opening day in Scarborough on Wednesday and said there are a lot of guidelines horsemen must follow.
“There is a limited number of people allowed to care for the horses,” Cushing said. “When you first enter the grounds, they check your temperature and ask you a number of questions like if you’ve been out of the state. If you are 60 years old or older, they give you the option of being in a more secluded area. They will accommodate you.”
Alot of hand sanitizer is provided and the racetrack has a volunteer working the water spigots for the horses, Cushing said. No food or beverages are allowed in the paddocks and the snack shacks are not operating.
People must wear face coverings, including drivers when they are between races. Social distancing is stressed and proper spacing between horses is maintained in the paddocks.
Cushing expects things will gradually get smoother as everyone adapts to the new guidelines.
The industry has already absorbed a major hit with the state fairs being canceled as several of them offered harness racing.
The Fryeburg, Windsor, Union, Northern Maine (Presque Isle) and Topsham fairs all had harness racing, but none will offer it.
The Skowhegan, Farmington and Cumberland fairs also have racing and those state fairs haven’t been canceled. It is uncertain what they intend to do.
There is a possibility they could hold some racing even if they cancel their state fairs, Cushing said.
Both Bangor Raceway and Scarborough Downs race from May through November, but stagger dates so they aren’t competing against each other and drivers can run at both facilities.
If both tracks raced simultaneous, it would water down the field and that would not benefit the industry, Cushing said.
The Maine Harness Racing Commission meets every month and decides on the race dates for the following month.
Several other groups, such as the Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association, can also weigh in but the commission makes the final decision.
Earlier this spring, Maine approved remote wagering so harness racing fans can now bet on races at Scarborough and Bangor and other tracks across the country and all over the world. Wagers may be placed at hollywoodbets.com and the races can be viewed at racingday.com.
Cushing pointed out that in the not too distant future, bettors will be able to both wager and watch horse racing on the hollywoodbets.com website and will not have to access racingday.com.
Watch: Janet Mills announces changes to June 1 reopening phase