By Scott Taylor (@staylorsports)
“Remember. Six Feet! Six Feet!”
For Derek Corbel, the assistant director of racing and backstretch supervisor at Assiniboia Downs, it’s almost a full-time job. Just reminding veteran ASD employees about the new normal has become a part of the daily routine.
Now that the Downs is open for live racing without spectators and within the protocols of the government’s public health officials, things that the employees — especially the staff at the starting gate — once took for granted are either gone forever or currently on hold.
For Corbel, he’s proud of his staff, but he knows everyone has to keep reminding him or herself of the protocols.
“It’s been pretty good so far,” said Corbel, after another night of no-spectator racing at ASD. “But we are all constantly reminding each other, ‘Six feet! Six feet!’ Until you get into the gate with the horses and riders, you have to be ready to hear some yell, ‘Remember, six feet!’
“But it’s understandable. We have guys who have been working at the Downs for 30 years. This new normal isn’t something you can just adapt to and take for granted. But they get it. They’re all working really hard at what needs to be done.”
One of Corbel’s major assignments is to make sure the horses and jockeys get into the starting gate, get comfortable and all get an equal opportunity to get off to the great start which is quite important early in the racing season when almost every race is a 5 ½-to-six-furlong sprint.
It’s something he’s done for a long time and yet, this year, everything seems so different.
“We used to load the whole crew into the van and drive out to the gate to start the evening’s races,” said Corbel. “Now, it’s just me and the track veterinarian. We’re all in our masks.
“Even the jockeys. They are all masked up in the jocks room and they are now separated by at least six feet. They don’t take their masks off until they get on their mounts. It’s totally different now than it ever has been.”
It’s also a different experience to hear.
“Even out at the starting gate, you could hear the roar of the crowd when the horses came down that final furlong toward the finish line,” said Corbel. “You don’t hear that anymore and it’s really different.
“And I miss the people on the backstretch and in the clubhouse. We just have to understand that it’s different and keep reminding ourselves of what we need to do.”
Racing resumes Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. with only essential staff members on the grounds. At the Downs, it’s safety first.