For 23 years, Dee Poulos has trained horses at Arlington International Racecourse, but none of them have been as unique as this year.
"It really is kind of mind boggling, because so many years of moving in here in the spring, and then all of a sudden we’re moving in in July, and starting our meet at the end of July," Poulos said. "You have to kind of get a grasp on that, because we’re such creatures of habit."
But don't confuse Poulos' sentiment for frustration. She's thrilled and comforted that she's now back on the grounds of the Arlington Heights track.
"You feel very warm," Poulos said. "It's a good feeling. It's a very good feeling."
The coronavirus pandemic delayed the start of the 2020 season for nearly three months, but finally, next Thursday, racing will return to Arlington. Track president Tony Petrillo feels like life has been breathed back into the facility.
"It's good to see people that have been furloughed back on, and there’s a new energy and enthusiasm injected into the operation," Petrillo said. "And then seeing that the horses are arriving, and the trainers are arriving, that’s what we’re here for, to see these athletes perform."
The 2020 season was scheduled to start on May 1st and have 68 race dates, but instead will be shortened to 30. And that's just the start of the many changes taking place at the track. The biggest one? As of now, no spectators are allowed.
"It’s gonna be different when horses are crossing the finish line and, you don’t hear any cheering," Petrillo said. "It’s like someone hitting a home run, and there’s dead silence, or someone scores a goal in soccer, and there’s dead silence."
Petrillo is hopeful fans will eventually be allowed back in the stands this summer, but the track needs approval from local and state health departments as well as the governor's office for that to happen.
"To be able to house 800 to 3,000 spectators here, social distancing outside, not using any of our indoor facilities, is a very feasible outcome," Petrillo said.
Another major change? Strict health protocols for the limited number of people allowed on the property. Ed Arriola, Arlington's director of public safety, has spent considerable time putting together a plan to keep everyone as safe as possible.
"Making sure that everyone has a mask, temperature screening, testing for very specific people like jockeys who are in close contact," Arriola said. "So making sure they stay safe, they stay healthy, and it’s just protocols like that that we’re able to put in place here."
Arriola feels confident the new rules and regulations Arlington has put in place will allow it to have a safe, uninterrupted 2020 season.
"Leading up to it, there was a lot of uncertainty, but we’ve done a lot of work with the Department of Public Health and Agriculture to come up with some rules and regulations that we’re going to be enforcing throughout the season, and hopefully we’ll get through the meet healthy and safe, and we’ll be back next year again," Arriola said.