**Correction: The 10% Purse increase last year was not retroactive, but increased for the final 6 days of racing.
(Renton, WA) Emerald Downs officials announced their intended 2021 racing dates on yesterday, we say intended because the dates have been determined based on the current status of COVID-19 rules and that as of right now says fans are not allowed to attend.
Emerald Downs is coming off a remarkable 25th season last summer when they ran from late June to the end of October. Races were run through the COVID-19 summer with no fans but like many racetracks in a similar position saw their betting handle skyrocket. Although having to restrict betting to pretty much on-line wagering meant there were more hands in the profit cookie jar which is less that comes to the track, but betting was so robust Emerald was able to boost purses 10% for the final 6 days.
Emerald ran their entire season of only 2 days a week and on the non-traditional days of Wednesday’s at 2pm and Thursday’s at 5pm. There was one week of shifting days but it was due to the smoke pollution from the severe forest fires and not from COVID. In fact, despite the backstretch being open to hundreds of workers and horsemen beginning on February 1 of 2020 there was not one single case of a positive virus test for the entire season.
The Emerald press release indicates a 50-day meeting for the 2021 season, the 25th anniversary year. Opening day will be Wednesday, May 19th, the latest opening day since June 20, 1996 when the track opened and last year which opened racing on June 24th after finally gaining approval from the State Department of Health. Last year Emerald Officials settled on the Wednesday, Thursday racing schedule after consultation with the State Horse Racing Commission and TVG, the racing channel that broadcasts live horse racing and offers fans one of several on-line betting opportunities. TVG officials urged Emerald to consider these days due to a lack of racing available and they would be able to highlight and promote Emerald racing a lot more during these times than their traditional weekend race days.
Closing Day is set for Thursday, September 23 and they are planning some Sunday race cards adding a 3rd day of racing beginning in late June for Father’s Day. Post times have not been released but Thursday’s at 5pm seems likely to remain as handle was at a record level during that time. It is not known if the 2p post time for Wednesday will remain or if there will be a chance to move it to 5p as well to match the Thursday start time for consistency. Sunday’s is expected to remain at its traditional 2p post time.
We began this story with the words intended racing dates and that’s because after talking with Emerald officials this is the plan as of January 11, 2021 which includes a ban of on-track fans. Eli Sports was told that they remain flexible in working with the schedule if conditions change such as allowing fans back to the track.
If fans are allowed back on track then it is possible that racing on Wednesdays could be moved to Saturdays. Due to the success of Thursday racing last year it seems unlikely officials will mess with the Thursday time slot. Additionally, even if fans were allowed to be on track prior to the May 19 opening day it is unlikely opening day would be moved. The reason for that is the track won’t be opened for training this season until March 1 a full month later than last season.
So all the pre-season planning and promotion is aimed at that May 19 date. It is far easier to make shifts in the schedule after racing begins but it’s really important to have that targeted opening day as solid as possible to give trainers and owners a for sure start date. Last year they added a couple of weeks to the end of the season and that possibility remains for this season depending on factors and other tracks running that would impact horse population.
There are simply to many factors that can come into play that could impact the final schedule to say this is it so, much like last year officials really don’t want to say anything is 100% other than opening week. Between the Emerald staff and State Racing Commission officials the more flexibility they hold onto the better and easier they can make adjustments as conditions change.
The Stakes schedule is expected to remain close to what last season offered and with most of the Stakes schedule maybe aimed for the Sunday race days but nothing is official at this point and the 2021 Stakes schedule is set to be released next month including for the all important Longacres Mile.