The racing world is reacting as well. As of March 12, the way racing is conducted has been modified severely in California, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, and Arkansas. Tracks in all six states will continue to conduct racing on a limited scale but without patrons in the stands.
The precautionary measures extend beyond the United States. It was also announced Thursday that the March 28 Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline and its supporting program will be run without spectators as well.
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At about 1:30 p.m. ET March 12, Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields announced they would close to the public effective immediately. Both tracks will continue to race as scheduled, with personnel licensed by the California Horse Racing Board allowed to attend.
A little after 3 p.m. March 12, the New York Racing Association followed suit, announcing that live racing at Aqueduct will “occur behind closed doors until further notice.”
Churchill also reported that preparations for the May 2 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve are still underway.
“With the event still seven weeks away, a decision will be made closer to that date with respect to postponing the event until later in the year, using the most recent information while working with and seeking guidance from public health experts and authorities,” a release stated.
Minutes later, Keeneland announced its spring meet, which is set to open April 2, will start without spectators. A limited amount of credentials will be provided to those directly connected to horses running at the track. The Lexington track announced that, working with government officials and health authorities, it will consider reopening to spectators April 15.
Keeneland also announced the cancellation of its April 2-year-olds in training and horses of racing age sale, which was slated for April 7.
At 5:30 p.m. March 12, the Maryland Jockey Club added its plans to continue live racing as scheduled while closing Laurel Park, Pimlico Race Course, and Rosecroft Raceway facilities to the public “effective immediately.”
“We will continue to monitor the situation and will look forward to welcoming our fans and guests again soon,” a Maryland Jockey Club release stated.
Just after 6 p.m. March 12, Gulfstream Park announced the track will be temporarily closed to the public for racing and simulcasting at the conclusion of racing.
Live racing will continue as scheduled at the South Florida track with personnel licensed by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering in attendance, which will provide fans at home with the opportunity to stay connected via the 1/ST BET and Xpressbet apps.
The March 28 Curlin Florida Derby will be run but also will be closed to the public.
The casino at Gulfstream Park will remain open for slot machine play only. All areas of the clubhouse, including the walking ring and apron, will be closed with perimeter fencing and security. The Village at Gulfstream Park will remain open, however, and encourages guests to check with specific retailers’ operating hours.
Tracks Respond to Local Authorities
The announcement regarding racing in California came not long after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced gatherings should be postponed, canceled, or limited to no more than 250 people to protect public health.
“The state’s public health experts have determined that gatherings should be postponed or canceled across the state until at least the end of March,” Newsom stated. “Non-essential gatherings must be limited to no more than 250 people, while smaller events can proceed only if the organizers can implement social distancing of six feet per person. Gatherings of individuals who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 should be limited to no more than 10 people, while also following social distancing guidelines.”
Santa Anita had already canceled the March 13 program due to weather concerns and has also moved the March 14 San Simeon Stakes to March 21 and the March 15 Irish O’Brien Stakes to March 22.
In New York, the decision came after Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned gatherings of 500 or more people in efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“We believe that the most prudent decision to protect the health and well-being of all involved in our sport is to conduct upcoming race dates without attendees,” NYRA CEO and President Dave O’Rourke said. “NYRA will continue to actively monitor this evolving situation and make further adjustments as necessary in consultation and collaboration with the New York State Gaming Commission.”
NYRA will continue to follow best practices established by the New York State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
All remaining racing at Turfway, which runs through March 28, will be run with essential staff, horsemen, owners, limited friends and family, and media only. Daily simulcasting will also be closed through the remainder of the meet.
As for Turfway, which was purchased by Churchill Downs Inc. in 2019, the concern surrounds cold and wet conditions that would force spectators indoors. The ability to ensure safe social distancing would be compromised.
Keeneland said patrons who purchased tickets for racing from April 2-11 will receive a full refund. Buyers of tickets for April 15-24 have an option to request a full refund.
“While our horsemen and fans are certainly disappointed about us having to take these measures, it is critical to protect the health and safety of our patrons, employees, and participants from the spread of COVID-19,” Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason said. “We take our responsibility to the community and the horse industry seriously, and we will continue to work in partnership with government authorities.”
The Dubai World Cup news came on the heels of the March 7 “Super Saturday” card also being run without spectators.
“Due to the ongoing global health implications of COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, and precautionary measures being implemented by the United Arab Emirates’ government, the $12 million Dubai World Cup and its supporting program will be conducted March 28 without paid spectators at Meydan Racecourse,” officials said.
Only horse connections, racing officials, accredited media, and sponsors will be permitted entry on Dubai World Cup day. All races will be contested and regulated in a standard fashion, and results will be recorded officially.
The annual race card, one of the richest in the world and the pinnacle of the UAE racing season, features six Group 1 races and three Group 2 tests with purses valued at $35 million. This year’s renewal was expected to offer a celebration of the event’s 25th anniversary. All supporting Dubai World Cup events, including race-day entertainment, have been canceled.
Late Thursday, Sam Houston Race Park in Texas announced plans to cancel simulcasting due to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s recommendation that large public gatherings should be canceled and it will continue with live racing but without spectators. Only essential persons licensed by the Texas Racing Commission will be permitted.
Oaklawn Park in Arkansas issued a release early March 12 that the Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort intends to remain open over the weekend, but later amended that response adding, “Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort has decided to run all races this weekend without onsite spectators.”
“We represent the sport of kings. As such, we will act in a similar fashion to other sports organizations throughout the country,” Oaklawn President Louis Cella said. “The health and safety of our fans, horsemen, and Team Members have always been and will continue to be our top priorities.”
Canceled events include Dawn at Oaklawn, barn tours, and the Infield. However, the casino will remain open at this time.
Fans will be able to view all weekend races, which include four stakes Friday and Saturday highlighted by the $1 million Rebel Stakes, on OaklawnAnywhere.com and TVG. Select races will be on FoxSports2 and the Madison Square Garden Network. Also, Arkansas residents can wager on any Oaklawn race via the free Oaklawn Anywhere app.
Oaklawn stated that the constantly evolving situation will require the track to work closely with government officials and relevant health authorities to assess when it will reopen racing to onsite spectators.
Patrons who purchased tickets for racing dates between March 13-15 will receive a full refund on those purchases.
Other Events Canceled Over Health Concerns
As originally reported March 11 by BloodHorse features editor Frank Angst, the 2020 annual racing integrity and equine welfare conference of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, scheduled for April 7-10 in New Orleans, has been canceled as a result of the public health concerns associated with the spread of COVID-19.
The CHRB late Thursday announced the cancellation of its March 19 meeting, based on recommendations from Newsom’s office and California public health officials.
Also, New York Thoroughbred Breeders announced March 12 that the organization’s divisional champions award banquet, scheduled for April 6 at the Saratoga National Golf Club in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., has been canceled because of COVID-19. The group will publicly announce the winners as planned via its website and social media channels.
In the steeplechasing world, the Carolina Cup Racing Association canceled the March 28 running of the storied race, following the guidance of the U.S. Center for Disease Control and local Kershaw County health authorities. In the 86-year history of the Carolina Cup, this is only the second time the tradition has been interrupted.
On Wednesday evening, President Donald Trump addressed the United States and unveiled several measures, including a 30-day ban on travel to the U.S. by Europeans and restrictions on cargo. The National Basketball Association suspended its season Wednesday after a player tested positive for the virus, and the NCAA has announced that its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments have been canceled. Major League Baseball has announced it will delay opening day—slated for March 26—at least two weeks. Minor League Baseball has followed suit.