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DOWN THE BACKSTRETCH: Back at the track

The gates swing closed as the first qualifier of the season hits the track at Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park on Saturday, May 23.
The gates swing closed as the first qualifier of the season hits the track at Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park on Saturday, May 23.
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

Harness racing is getting back underway in more jurisdictions every week after a complete shutdown two months ago at tracks across North America due to the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic.

New Brunswick has announced its first card of the season will be June 6 at Exhibition Park Raceway in Saint John, while Nova Scotia indicated this week that racing will return to its three tracks in June with final details being ironed out.

In the U.S., Illinois received the green light to go, and New Jersey will hold qualifiers this week while awaiting confirmation on when live racing may resume.

While live racing is back, there is not a single jurisdiction allowing fans back at the track for at least the time being.

The first qualifiers of the season were held Saturday afternoon at Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park with more than 60 horses entered in nine dashes in front of an empty grandstand. Race fans caught the action live at Redshores.ca from the comfort of their own homes. More qualifiers were scheduled for Thursday evening at the capital oval followed by afternoon cards Saturday and Sunday at 12:30 p.m. leading up to the first card of live racing on Thursday, June 4.

Mixed into the qualifying crowd are some new names to East Coast racing.

Vegas Rich (24 wins, $121,499 earned, mark of 1:53.1 at Kawartha Downs) qualified Saturday for trainer Jansen Sweet and owner Frank Sweet of Knutsford. The Million Dollar Cam nine-year-old had been racing the $7,000 claiming ranks at Rideau Carleton Raceway outside Ottawa.

Much Adoo (26 wins, $401,347, 1:49.4 at Mohawk) is now part of the Ron Matheson stable and is owned by Bruce Wood’s Rollwithitharry Racing of Marshfield. The Classic Card Shark eight-year-old pacing mare was claimed for $7,500 from Dover Downs in Delaware.

Miss Kabana (nine wins, $59,181, 1:54 at Mohawk) is now owned by Gary Poulton, Gail MacDonald and Trevor Warren of Charlottetown. A five-year-old daughter of Mach Three, Miss Kabana has been racing the $15,000 claimer at Woodbine Mohawk Park in Ontario, pacing in 1:55.4 in her latest start in March.

There have also been some additions to the top pacing ranks on the East Coast with more sure to come.

Lisburn, a finalist in 2019 in The Guardian Gold Cup and Saucer, is back on the East Coast in the Kenny Arsenault stable for owner Kevin Harvey of Hammonds Plains, N.S. The five-year-old pacer was a force in the preferred ranks in the fall before moving back to Ontario for the winter meet at Mohawk.

Avatar J, a third-place finisher in last year’s James (Roach) MacGregor Gold Cup and Saucer consolation, has been placed in the Danny MacDonald stable of Charlottetown by owners Jody Sanderson of Cornwall and Dean Larkin of Edwards, Ont. The six-year-old American Ideal pacer was racing the Ontario circuit for trainer Ron MacDonald and was a winner in 1:52.2 in March at Mohawk.

Nicholas Oakes' column appears in The Guardian each Friday. He can be reached at nicholasoakes@hotmail.com.

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