AURORA | B.ruce Seymore turned off the sound after watching a quarter horse race on television on July 14th in his office in Arapahoe Park.
The longtime general manager of the venerable racecourse near the Aurora reservoir sits just a few hundred meters from the race behind glass and continues to grapple with a new normal that sucks.
The horse racing landscape that Seymore had come to know and love since childhood – unlike on the actual track – could not look more different.
“It was festive, thundering hooves and all the exaggerations you could get out of there,” said Seymore of the often busy times on the track in recent years. “When you have a lot here and you have a really nice race, people cheer their horses and say, ‘Oh, I wanted to do this, but I didn’t,” something like that and there’s a lot of interaction. The interaction is gone for now. “
Many trails across the country are still closed, so the fact that Arapahoe Park is even open is a testament to resilience and adaptation, which has expanded the skills of Seymore, a well-known “control freak”.
Seymore said he had “serious doubts” about the season at Arapahoe Park in March when COVID-19 galloped on stage, forcing all sporting events of any kind to be canceled.
Seymore considered taking the year off, but if he didn’t do 30 days of live racing he would lose his license and practically have to start over next year. So he and his staff came up with a plan that required the approval of the county, state, racing commission, and governor Jared Polis’ office.
The venue was able to schedule 41 days of live racing this summer (a schedule that started June 8 and is scheduled to end on September 6), with three days of racing per week and some special weekend events like one on July 19.
It brought trainers and horses from Canada and a variety of states including Arizona, where a large contingent arrived in Colorado before the numbers exploded there.
Signage that requires masks and temperature checks is part of a package that Seymore made it all “surreal”.
Seymore and his staff had to educate themselves about health practices and the need for social distancing and adapt them to horses.
“I laugh when I see ski resorts saying that six feet is about the length of a ski, or a dog show says it’s about three mountain dogs,” he said. “For us it’s about two horses.”
Mitigating the joy of racing is the fact that no one except owners, coaches, and support staff can see it in person.
Betting – an important part of the business – can also be made remotely in locations across the state such as Havana Park in Aurora, which is operated by Arapahoe Park. However, this has slowed due to the pandemic economy that has changed people’s spending habits. Not all of the 13 off track betting locations (OTBs) scattered across the state have opened.
Personal receipts are not there to replace them.
“I’m a spectator sport and I have no spectators,” said Seymore. “From the racing side everything is pretty normal when it comes to the actual participation of the horses, jockeys and trainers. The difference up here is what I do. I don’t have admission, I don’t have any food, drink or program sales. I don’t have any of it. That makes it difficult to keep things going.
“We do it on a wing and a prayer. “
Fortunately, not much has changed for longtime spokesperson Jonathan Horowitz high above the Arapahoe Park route in a room full of televisions, audio equipment, and other electronic devices.
Horowitz has been part of the audio ambience of the track of the last decade and, with his outstanding performance in racing, is only happy to be the eyes for those who cannot be there in person.
“My feelings about what’s going on are pleasant,” said Horowitz. “We are in a time when there is really not much sport and horse racing has done a good job to keep working and to be able to work safely.
“So that the horses can race, the fans follow the sport they love, and the people who work and train with the horses so that they have a point of sale and can still continue to work, I think that’s great.”
Seymore is very aware that there is a chance every day that something will go wrong and force the entire racing season to an early end, but he is proud of what has happened so far.
“Something would happen – and I hope not – we would have been successful,” he said. “We performed a miracle, that’s how difficult it was, in my opinion, to get to where we are.”