RUIDOSO DOWNS — In 2020 the Ruidoso Downs Racetrack opened up to those who were involved in the racing of the horses and not much else.
Throughout the COVID-19 2020 racing season the Downs was able to slowly allow fans but with heavy restrictions on everything from the concession area being caged off to a drive-through betting window simply to let people bet on races they couldn’t attend in person.
Lincoln County is now at the Turquoise level. Since the Downs is an outdoor venue it was allowed to restart all of its normal activities at 75 percent capacity.
For the first two days of the Derby Trials the place looks much more like it did in the 2019 season than the 2020 season. The grandstands were packed, the concession corridor and the casino both on the bottom level are open for business and the sound of fans yelling during the races is back in full force.
While masks are not required if attendees have had their vaccinations there is signage around reminding people to still socially distance and there are plenty of hand sanitizer locations throughout the property.
Be it someone involved in the front office for the Downs, an employee getting to work a normal schedule again or just a racing fan who drives from Texas every season to attend, everyone was happy for somewhat of a return to normalcy.
Tim Keithly, the handicapper for the Downs, has been involved with the Ruidoso Downs since 1999 and is glad to see the place packed again.
“We’re so excited for this season,” Keithly said. “It seems like there’s a pent-up demand for getting back to the races. That’s why you’re seeing the crowds that you are this weekend.”
Keithly said once Friday’s races ended he had a general “welcome back” feeling and was happy to see the crowds.
“We missed our fans,” Keithly said. “The jockeys, the trainers and the horses were basically performing in a vacuum and a quiet grandstand. We had the Turf Club opened at half capacity. Now that we’re back it feels right to have the fans in order to have the races. Those are the ones we’re putting on a show for.”
Linda Evans is one of those people who loves the showmanship of the Downs. She is from Lubbock and has come to the Downs every summer for more than 20 years including last year with the limited capacity.
She was impressed with how the Downs was able to handle the difficulties of last year with the restrictions but is glad to be back in the Jockey Club seats cheering on the horses.
“It’s been fabulous coming back,” she said. “We saw people we didn’t see last year at all. There were employees from two years ago we saw who came back. It was great. Everywhere you turned you saw someone you were glad to see. I see people here I’ve known for 25 or 30 years.”
Cheryl Thetford is back to bartending at the Club Level for her fourth year at the Downs after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the majority of the hospitality crew last year. Thetford said drinks have been flowing freely and the two most popular drinks she’s made were Chilton’s and Bloody Mary’s, noting she used up an entire case of vodka on Saturday just for the Bloody Mary’s.
“Everybody’s so glad to be here,” Thetford said. “We had a little problem with seating (because of how busy the club level has been) but we’ve worked it out. It’s pretty awesome.”
Thetford noted she hasn’t felt worried at all about COVID-19, noting the Downs “cleans, and cleans, and cleans each night”.
In addition to the overall good feeling of seeing her customers happy, Thetford added all of the customers were understanding if some order wasn’t completed perfectly or fast enough and said the tips have been larger.
“Everybody’s just happy to be back here,” Thetford said.
Matthew Asher can be reached at 575-628-5524, [email protected] or @Caveman_Masher on Twitter.