COLLINSVILLE, Ill. —
It’s been more than two months since a race took place at Fairmount Park in Collinsville, Illinois, due to the COVID-19 shutdown. But, things could be changing.
There’s been no official confirmation yet from Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, but people connected to Fairmount Park have said live, spectator-free racing will be resuming in the near future.
Illinois Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association president Jim Watkins told 5 On Your Side that the Illinois Governor’s office could be giving Fairmount permission to return to spectator-free racing as soon as Wednesday evening.
Fairmount Park jockey Elizabeth Thurman said she was told details are being finalized.
“I just heard this morning that we are gonna get the ‘OK’ from the governor’s office today, and that they’re in the works of getting the racing dates all lined up,” Thurman said.
Fairmount would join horse tracks from Kentucky, Nebraska, California, Florida, and Oklahoma in spectator-free racing. Those five states have allowed racing during the pandemic, and have generated a sufficient income from online wagering.
The online wagering has spiked significantly during the pandemic.
“I know one other smaller track, and it was in Nebraska, called Fonner Park,” Thurman said. “They extended their meet I believe, and got more racing days, and was able to add more purse money because of the online wagering.”
Thurman said racing would provide hope for more than 150 small businesses that have been affected by the track’s shutdown. She said many owners have had to sell horses with no income to care for them properly.
“The horses have to get taken care of,” Thurman said. “The help has to get paid. We get paid to get on horses. They’ve just been paying us to gallop. To help us because we’re not making money either.”
Thurman said many employees have been training at Fairmount during the pandemic within CDC guidelines. Most people who attend wear masks at all times, sanitize many times throughout the day, have temperatures taken regularly, and maintain a social distance from one another.
She added that the one other race track she visited during the pandemic in Kentucky, which was conducting spectator-free racing, was able to do so safely.
“When I went to Churchill, they take you temperature,” Thurman said. “They put a wristband on you. They tested me for corona(virus) like the day before. And you have to wear a mask all the time.”
Thurman said it’s important that Fairmount receives approval to race soon, with only three full months of racing remaining in the 2020 season.