By Chris Lomon / @ChrisLomon
For Matt Bax, the biggest shot in the arm Ontario horsepeople need at this time is exactly that.
In the view of the respected Standardbred driver-trainer-owner, last week’s announcement regarding vaccinations is a game-changer for an Ontario horse racing industry that continues to be severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Having the opportunity to be vaccinated… that’s huge for all of us,” said Bax, who currently owns and trains horses with his father, John Bax. “We all want to get back to live racing, to our livelihoods, to where we want to be and to do what we love to do.”
Just over a week ago, Halton Region, currently under a “stay-at-home order,” announced COVID-19 vaccination appointments are available for all essential workers (18+) who live or work in Halton and are unable to work from home.
That list includes those working with racehorses in Halton under “Essential Workers (Group 1)” as “Agriculture and Farm Workers.” Eligible essential workers are required to bring a completed COVID-19 Proof of Employment Attestation Form to vaccine clinic appointments, signed by their employer. The same applies to those working with racehorses throughout Ontario.
Bax has five employees, all of who will be vaccinated by the week’s end. He’s encouraging all members of the racing community to receive the vaccine to protect themselves, their families, their horses, colleagues, and the community at large.
He believes the vaccinations are another step, a major one, in the push to expedite the resumption of live racing at Woodbine Mohawk Park and across the province.
“We’re just like everyone else in the industry,” said Bax, who, along with his wife Ayla and two young children, live on a farm in Campbellville, ON. “The vaccinations are available, and we’re going to do what we have to do to get back racing. As soon as that news came out, we spoke to our employees right away and gave them all the information they needed. Everyone I’ve talked to in the industry is keen to get vaccinated and get back to racing.”
Once live racing does resume, continuing to race without further interruptions, even in another lockdown, depends on limiting any spread of the virus throughout the industry.
As stated on the Government of Ontario’s website, “When a large percentage of the population becomes immune to COVID-19, the spread of the virus will slow down or stop.”
Over the past 14 months, Bax has seen, first-hand and through conversation, just how dedicated the horse racing community has been and continues to be in adhering to the strict health & safety regulations established by the Provincial Government, Woodbine Entertainment, COSA, and Ontario Racing.
All of the measures taken by horse people, big or small, noted Bax, convey that live horse racing can be conducted safely for both horses and humans.
“If there is any little thing we can do as an industry – and I think we’ve proven that time and again that we can keep everything under control at the racetrack – everyone will do the right thing. We also need to take care of the horses, day in and day out. That’s essential. Horse racing is in dire straits right now, but the vaccinations are something that brings us one step closer to get back to racing. Everyone in the industry is on board and will do whatever it takes to see live racing return. That’s been the case since the pandemic started.”
Bax, who has 25 horses stationed at his farm, is hopeful the concerted commitment of the Standardbred community culminates with a return to live racing across Ontario soon.
“I’d like to think there has to be a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s been tough. Some people have decided to race in the U.S. It hasn’t been easy by any means. We’ve demonstrated we are all willing to do whatever it takes to adhere to the health & safety measures that have been mandated, and we are all looking forward to the day we can get racing underway again.”
Until that day comes, Bax and the thousands who work in the Ontario horse racing industry will remain dedicated to making it a reality.
“Woodbine has done a great job keeping everyone in the industry informed of what’s going on. Along with Ontario Racing and Standardbred Canada, they have posted where people can get vaccinated and provided regular communications related to the pandemic. If we can keep working together like this, hopefully, the government sees the importance of getting back to racing. We can start earning money, generating revenue for the province, and getting back to doing what we love.”