VERNON — Vernon Downs will start harness racing again on June 2 with qualifying races, if all goes to plan, according to owner Jeff Gural.
Vernon Downs Casino Hotel has been closed due to COVID-19, but there is a plan in place to get back to racing, Gural said by phone Friday.
About half the trainers and drivers at Vernon Downs live locally, while the other half are mostly in Florida, Gural noted. While those who are out of town tend to return in early May, that was not the case this year. There is practicing at the track now, and soon there should be racing.
“Financially it’s been a disaster,” Gural said of the impact of the pandemic on business. “The bulk of our employees are on furlough” and are receiving unemployment. Vernon Downs, he noted, has continued to provide health insurance to its employees. “Our key people have been on staff, and we’ve hired back a bunch of people,” he said, for racing and renovating the hotel.
Gural said the plan is to start with “qualifying races on June 2 and 4, and start racing on June 10.” The initial schedule will likely be Wednesday and Thursday racing at 4 p.m. in June. It might eventually switch to Thursday and Saturday. Racing will initially be without fans in attendance, though there will be betting by mobile device.
“It will take a little bit of time to adjust,” Gural said of learning how to manage such things as masks and social distancing for those involved.
“We have to be careful. We don’t want anyone to get sick,” He said employees will likely be tested by the company.
The lack of sports might even be a boon to racing at Vernon Downs, Gural said. “I think it helps, not having the competition that we usually have with other sports. We’re hoping that people will tune in and watch more racing.”
Though racing is going to restart, Gural noted, “We’re not going to have as many races as we usually do.” The season will likely end in early November, though that is based on an estimate about how much purse money will be available. “We will still have all the Stakes races we were going to have, maybe even more because some tracks don’t want Stakes races.”