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COVID-19 Effects on Horse Racing

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The sad, empty grandstand at Oaklawn on Rebel Stakes Day with fans not allowed to attend.

Updated: 04/02/2020

The current COVID19 pandemic is affecting many areas of our life, and horse racing is not exempt from this. At first several tracks tried running with no spectators allowed, but as time has gone on, most have had to shut down totally either because of positive tests of track personnel or by order of local government. As of this date, only Gulfstream Park, Tampa Bay Downs, Oaklawn Park, Will Rogers Downs, and Fonner Park are running thoroughbred racing, but Gulfstream is getting pressured to close by local officials. Santa Anita and Golden Gate were running, but the local health departments closed them down. Pretty much all casinos and simulcast centers are now closed. Most fans will be limited to online wagering and viewing on TV or streaming on your computer for the time being.

The length of disruption is unknown for now as things around the world are so unsettled. Below is a list of tracks and what I can find on them currently. Only the officials required to conduct the race meeting and horsemen involved in those races are allowed entry at what few tracks are still running.

Probably the most shocking of the changes is the postponement of the Kentucky Derby and Oaks to Labor Day weekend. The Derby will be run on September 5th and the Oaks on the 4th. The rest of the Derby week races are up in the air, but likely the ones usually run on Oaks and Derby days will move with them. It is rumored that the Preakness may also move to September, but they haven't confirmed yet. There is nothing from NYRA yet on whether the Belmont will move, but they just cancelled racing at Aqueduct due to a positive COVID-19 test from a backside worker and the Wood Memorial and other stakes have also been postponed. This puts the Derby on a week after the Travers unless NYRA decides to move the Saratoga schedule around as well. Oaklawn has now announced that the Arkansas Derby has been moved to the first Saturday in May, taking the spot vacated by the Kentucky Derby.

In Europe, many racetracks have also restricted access however the prestigious Cheltenham Festival in England was conducted March 10-13 to crowds as large as 68,859 on Friday, in a country where other sports play in empty stadiums or have shut down, such as the Premier League. The British Horseracing Authority has suspened racing through April, cancelling the Grand National and many other big races. France, Germany, Spain, and Italy also cancelled all racing. Ireland, though, is continuing to race behind closed doors with with no overseas runners allowed to compete and no owners allowed to attend. The Dubai World Cup was going to be held with no spectators, but on Sunday the entire meet, including the big day, was cancelled.

Horse racing was already in a precaious position and struggling to survive. Will this catastrophe be the death knell for some tracks? Can horsemen afford to support their horses with no income from racing? This shutdown affects all levels of racing beyond the fans including backstretch workers, media, trainers, owners, breeders, farm staff, tack/silks makers, vets, farriers, feed suppliers, and many more.

Other horse racing events that have been cancelled are the 2020 annual racing integrity and equine welfare conference of the Association of Racing Commissioners International in New Orleans April 7-10 and the CHRB 3/19 meeting. The National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association has canceled its annual convention that was to be held March 24-28 in Hot Springs, AR. The New York Thoroughbred Breeders divisional champions award banquet on 4/6 has been cancelled and the winners will be announced online instead. Canada's Sovereign Awards that were scheduled for April have been indefinitely postponed for now. Many sales have been cancelled or postponed, so check before you go anywhere!

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