Churchill Downs Receives the OK to Resume Racing

By Richard Rosenblatt

Thank you, governor.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear says live racing at Churchill Downs – without spectators — is on the way back, with the iconic track given permission to open for training on May 11.

Churchill Downs Receives the OK to Resume Racing

McCracken (photo courtesy of Churchill Downs)

A date for the opening of the spring meet will be announced at a later date, Churchill Downs officials said. The Kentucky Derby, traditionally run on the first Saturday in May (which would be May 2), was rescheduled for Sept. 5 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday, Beshear announced the first phase of the reopening of businesses in Kentucky, saying this about Churchill Downs:

“They are going to accept horses and start accepting folks on their backside, on the backside of the track, on May 11. There will be no fans for racing.”

And thank you, hopefully, to California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

He recently announced that a safer-at-home policy would end May 15, and on Wednesday Santa Anita said it is planning to restart racing on the that date, pending approval from county officials, the Los Angeles Times reported.

In a letter obtained by the Times, Aidan Butler, Santa Anita’s acting executive director of California racing for The Stronach Group, wrote to leaders of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, California Thoroughbred Trainers and Jockey’s Guild:

“As businesses throughout the state are preparing to gradually reopen, horse racing is unique as we cannot literally open the doors the moment orders are relaxed. Horsemen need time to plan, which is why the tentative date is being put forth.”

We’ll see how it goes with Santa Anita, which has been closed since March 26. On Tuesday, about 100 protestors, including Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, gathered at the Los Angeles County building hoping that county supervisors would approve the re-opening on Santa Anita.

The situation is a bit more definitive for Churchill Downs.

The stable areas at Churchill Downs and the auxiliary training center Trackside are set to open on May 11 under strict guidelines regarding COVID-19.

“I will tell you this is one of the most detailed plans that we have seen about specific security checks that everybody has to go through and be temperature-checked to masking to having a very limited group that is there,’’ Beshear said.

Obviously, Churchill Downs can’t wait to get going.

“We truly appreciate the leadership of Governor Beshear and all of the hard work and guidance that state and local officials and public health experts have provided us to safely reopen,” Churchill Downs president Kevin Flanery said in a news release. “The health and safety of our horsemen, staff and community remains paramount. Strict compliance with our comprehensive COVID-19 Action Plan and social distancing guidelines is our responsible duty to effectively contain the virus.”

For now, once racing starts only authorized racetrack employees and Kentucky Horse Racing Commission license holders who are providing support for a horse stabled at the facility will be permitted on property.

This includes only trainers with horses stabled or racing on the facility grounds and those who are responsible for the care of the horses (veterinarians, grooms, exercise riders and farriers).

Churchill Downs’ stable areas have been closed since Dec. 31 for annual winter renovations and were originally scheduled to reopen March 17.

There has been no live racing Kentucky since March 25, when Churchill-owned Turfway Park ended its meet a few days early.

A list of tracks where horses are currently based may return to Churchill Downs during the following dates:

Fair Grounds (May 11-13); Gulfstream Park, Tampa Bay Downs, and horses based at Florida training centers (May 14-16); Oaklawn Park (May 17-19); other locales (May 20).

Other tracks currently racing, without spectators and under strict COVID-19 safety guidelines, include Gulfstream Park, Tampa Bay Downs, Fonner Park, Will Rogers, and Oaklawn Park, which closes its highly successful meet on Saturday, highlighted by two divisions of the Arkansas Derby (G1).

The status of racing in New York remains a question, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that he’s uncertain whether the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course would take place.

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