SHAKOPEE, Minn. -- The exercise riders at Canterbury Park don't get on a horse unless they're wearing the proper safety equipment. Tuesday morning, when Canterbury's training track opened for its first gallops of the spring, they had a new piece of required gear to go with their helmets and protective vests.
Everyone in the stable area now must wear a face mask as part of the track's COVID-19 safety protocols. Like his exercise riders, trainer Dave Van Winkle had to put one on, too. He also had to have his temperature taken by a security officer when he arrived at the stable gate, then slip on an orange wristband signifying he did not have a fever.
"These rules are a little more strict than at some other tracks," Van Winkle said. "It's definitely an adjustment. But it's OK. It's good to be here."
Though the pandemic has postponed the live racing season, which was set to begin Friday, Canterbury was allowed to open its stable area last weekend. Van Winkle was the first trainer to move in, bringing 18 horses from his winter base in Phoenix.
Andrew Offerman, Canterbury's vice president of racing operations, said a revised schedule could be unveiled by the end of the week. He is continuing to negotiate with horsemen, trying to reach an agreement on how to restructure a season that was supposed to run 65 days. Any proposal must be approved by the Minnesota Racing Commission -- and perhaps Gov. Tim Walz -- before racing could begin. The stable area was still quiet Tuesday, with only about 60 horses on the grounds and a dozen stable workers setting up housekeeping in the dormitories. Another 60 to 100 thoroughbreds are expected to arrive by the weekend. While trainers wait for a decision on the season, they are getting used to the list of new safety requirements.
"Everyone has been really good about following the rules," stall superintendent Andrew Vold said. "We sent an information packet to trainers to tell them what to expect. There's a lot of variation; some have been at tracks with tighter restrictions, and some at tracks with looser restrictions.
"We have a lot of postings around the dorms, so people understand the expectations. I think everyone is adjusting well."
Before Canterbury got permission from the state to open the stable area, it had to submit a plan to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Workers who live in the dorms can leave the grounds only for essential business. The track is making arrangements for food deliveries, to help keep the stable area as self-contained as possible.
The dorms are being sanitized daily, and two are being reserved for quarantine if necessary. Equipment such as grooming supplies, wheelbarrows and buckets must be disinfected each day and touched by as few people as possible.
Vold said Canterbury is one of only a few tracks to require face masks. The track and its thoroughbred horsemen's group bought 500 to distribute to stable-area workers, and trainers are starting to stock up with masks before coming to Shakopee.
While Van Winkle sent 16 horses to the training track Tuesday, Vold fielded calls from trainers looking for information about when Canterbury might start racing. Six U.S. tracks currently are running without spectators, and 12 more are planning to start in May or June.
It can cost as much as $1,000 to transport a horse to Shakopee, so many trainers are waiting for a confirmed start date before shipping. Offerman said everything remains uncertain, in part because there is no precedent for substantially changing a schedule already approved by the racing commission.
"Hopefully, later this week, we'll be able to get something submitted to them for their consideration," Offerman said. "They're trying to figure out what the approval process needs to look like in the current circumstances."
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