Live horse racing returns to Ruidoso Downs, with heavy COVID-19 precautions

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RUIDOSO, NEW MEXICO (KTSM) – You can think of it as Spring Training for horses.

“These horses running yesterday and today have never started in a real race,” said Jeff True, president and general manager of Ruidoso Downs Race Track and Casino

The rookies have reported to training camp. 2-year-old quarter horses preparing for their first seasons got some work in this week at Ruidoso Downs’ Schooling Works races, the final preparations before the season begins on May 22.

“It’s like a scrimmage game,” said jockey Ricky Ramirez. “Everything is real, it’s just not an official race. These horses learn a lot off of this.”

With COVID-19 putting a halt to sports worldwide, horseracing is one of the few that has continued and Ruidoso Downs is one of just six tracks in the country that are currently open. They’ll hold the Triple Crown of quarter horse racing this summer.

“We’re lucky and we take it very serious,” said trainer Blaine Wood. “We have to keep everyone healthy and safe.”

They’ve taken extensive precautions to do that. Face masks and gloves are required, as are health screenings prior to entering the track.

Out-of-town jockeys will be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival and isolated from other riders. There’s also protocol in place if someone were to test positive for the coronavirus.

“If a person on the backside were to test positive, everyone in that barn would be required to leave and quarantine for 14 days and be required to test negative before they came back,” said True.

Perhaps the biggest precaution the track is taking: The races are not open to fans because of the outbreak of COVID-19. However, when the season begins on May 22 every race can be streamed online on the racetrack’s website. The track is expecting extensive online betting as well. 

“Remington Park (in Oklahoma City) is bringing in about $3 million per night in online wagering, which is something that is unheard of,” said Ramirez, who also rides at that racetrack frequently. “I think Ruidoso Downs will do the same because quarter horse racing is something that people love to watch.”

All summer long, the fans will get to see what the rookies learned at spring training.

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