Horse Racing Hopes for a Return to Normal

Empty row of seats at racetrackLEXINGTON, Ky. — The golden sunset over Keeneland provided a picturesque and welcome wrap for horse racing after the pandemic wiped out its spring, cramped marquee stakes races into a crowded schedule and reshuffled the Triple Crown order.

No Triple Crown winner emerged as a result, though the Breeders’ Cup world championships helped make up for that. Many of its best competitors performed at the top of their games on a record-breaking weekend, sparking high expectations for 2021.

The sport just hopes that next year’s schedule returns to normal and that spectators can be in the grandstands enjoying the races.

“It’s been a different feeling, you know?” trainer Bill Mott said last week. “Being a participant, we probably get as excited as the fans when they’re there. It’s like I’ve got a bet on every race we’re participating in. So, I miss the fans.”

“I’ll be glad when everything gets back to normal and we have the fans back,” he said.

The pandemic …

Penn National preparing for horse racing return

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The sports comeback continues to spread across Pennsylvania, and horse racing is one of the latest beneficiaries.

The Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA) released a statement Saturday saying it expects approval to begin racing at Penn National on Friday, June 19.

Churchill Downs Stock Rising Amid Resort Re-openings

The Race Must Go On

On May 20, the company said it’s reopened two casino resorts in Mississippi. Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen said in a news release the company has “worked diligently” to put in place health and safety protocols to protect guests from coronavirus.

Churchill Downs has also started horse races again at its Louisville, Ky., track and plans to hold what would be the 146th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race. It’s been rescheduled for September 5th.

Carstanjen said in a news release announcing the rescheduling, “As the situation evolved, we…

This Year’s Belmont Stakes to Be Run on This Date at This New Distance

152nd Belmont Stakes to be broadcast live on NBC as first leg of the Triple Crown

The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) today announced the 152nd renewal of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes, to be contested at nine furlongs [from the normal 12 furlongs], will take place on Saturday, June 20 at Belmont Park as the opening leg of the Triple Crown for the first time in history.

To align with required health and safety measures implemented in New York to mitigate risk and combat the spread of COVID-19, the Belmont Stakes will be held without spectators in attendance.

“The Belmont Stakes is a New York institution that will provide world-class entertainment for sports fans during these challenging times,” said NYRA President & CEO Dave O’Rourke. “While this will certainly be a unique running of this historic race, we are grateful to be able to hold the Belmont Stakes in 2020. Thanks to our partners at NBC Sports, fans across the country can look forward to a day of exceptional thoroughbred racing at a time when entertainment and sports are so important to providing a sense of normalcy.”

Minnesota horse racing is back on.

152nd Belmont Stakes to be run on June 20

As the exclusive broadcast partner of the Belmont Stakes and Triple Crown, NBC Sports will present three hours of live coverage from Belmont Park on Saturday, June 20 beginning at 3 p.m. Eastern.

“June Saturdays at Belmont Park always offer terrific racing,” said Jon Miller, President of Programming for NBC Sports & NBCSN. “We’re excited to return on June 20 with a three-hour broadcast featuring the 152nd Belmont Stakes.”

Justify winning the Belmont – AP source

Traditionally contested at 1 1/2-miles and held as the third and final leg of the Triple Crown, the 152nd running of the Belmont Stakes will be run at a distance of 1 1/8-miles to properly account for the schedule adjustments to the Triple Crown series and overall calendar for 3-year-olds in training.

The revised date and distance for the Belmont Stakes follows the previously announced rescheduling of the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, from Saturday, May 2 to Saturday, September 5 as well as the rescheduling of the Preakness Stakes from May 16 to October 3.

Initially contested at a distance of 1 5/8-miles at Jerome Park, the first Belmont Stakes was won by Hall of Fame filly Ruthless in 1867. For a two-year period in 1893-94, the Belmont Stakes was run at nine furlongs at Morris Park Racecourse with Comanche winning in 1893 and Hall of Famer Henry of Navarre victorious a year later. The 1 1/2-miles distance was established in 1926.

All Belmont Stakes Racing Festival (BSRF) tickets are subject to full refunds. Fans who purchased directly from the NYRA Box Office or a NYRA sales representative are asked to complete this web form to request a refund or account credit. Fans who purchased BSRF tickets through Ticketmaster will receive an email directing them to log in to their Ticketmaster account to request a refund or credit.

NYRA Bets is the official online wagering site for the 152nd running of the Belmont Stakes, and the best way to bet the 2020 Belmont Park spring/summer meet. Available to customers across the United States, NYRA Bets allows horseplayers to watch and wager on racing from tracks around the world at any time. The NYRA Bets app is available for download for iOS and Android at NYRABets.com.

For more information, please visit BelmontStakes.com.

About the Belmont Stakes

The Belmont Stakes is an American tradition inaugurated in 1867 at Jerome Park Racetrack and moved in 1905 to its familiar home at beautiful Belmont Park. As the traditional third leg of racing’s Triple Crown, the 1 ½-mile “Test of the Champion,” as the Belmont Stakes is known, has showcased many of history’s greatest thoroughbreds.

Two of those Triple Crown triumphs have come in the last five years, with American Pharoah ending a 37-year Triple Crown drought in 2015 and Justify capping a perfect 6-for-6 career with a Triple Crown-clinching effort in 2018.

About the New York Racing Association

The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) holds the exclusive franchise to conduct thoroughbred racing at Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course.

NYRA tracks are the cornerstone of New York State’s thoroughbred industry, which is responsible for 19,000 jobs and more than $3 billion in annual statewide economic impact.

Accredited by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance, NYRA is a founding member of the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition, a group of the nation’s leading racing organizations working collaboratively to advance safety reforms across the sport.

Over the course of 217 days of live racing in 2019, NYRA generated more than $2.1 billion in all-sources wagering handle with paid attendance exceeding 1.5 million.

The New Normal. It Could Work Everywhere

How could the tracks that have raced without spectators make it work so well when others ran into the corner with fear?

COVID-19 and horse racing

By ART PARKER

About a month ago I whined about so many tracks not following the lead set by Tampa Bay Downs, Gulfstream, and especially Oaklawn Park regarding the coronavirus. These tracks and a couple of smaller ones carried on racing without spectators. My complaint was simple. If we race without patrons very little will be different than the days when there is no racing at all. Open the doors, be diligent with all precautions regarding the coronavirus, let the patrons play online, and let’s run.

Part of my reasoning is that we already have 85%-90% of our handle from online wagering, or so I am told by several experts. There is no doubt in my mind that this percentage will only increase in the future. One thing for sure, right now, relying upon online wagering is the only option.

Tampa Bay Downs grandstand copyright AGameofSkill.com

copyright AGameofSkill.com

Just consider the following two excerpts I read the other day. First from America’s Best Racing: “Records shattered-On April 18, Oaklawn’s handle was $19 million, breaking the record set last year on Rebel Stakes day. Arkansas Derby day more than doubled that record, with $41,007,201 wagered.”

From The Blood Horse: “Fonner Park, while conducting spectator-less racing since that date in a state that does not permit ADW wagering, —all handle is coming from out-of-state—wagering has averaged $2.43 million. Those figures do not include the phenomenal $7.26 million bet Tuesday, April 5 when the track’s popular Dinsdale Pick 5 Jackpot wager featured a mandatory payout pool of $4.2 million. In short, wagering is about 10 times the previous norm.”

The bottom line is that most places missed the boat, and, generally speaking, it was because of terrible government decisions. I could only imagine how well Woodbine could have done with their normal mid-April opening since reasonably nearby markets New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago were closed (especially New York).

Oaklawn is not necessarily one of the real big boys but they are far from one of the little guys. I salute them for stepping up to the plate, and I imagine they feel good about it when reviewing their handle figures.

I’m happy for a little track like Fonner Park. The Nebraska bullring stepped up and provided a product to the overall market and knocked it out of the park with handle.

As I have said before, we missed a generation or so when the thoroughbred industry shied away from television. COVID-19 provided the industry an opportunity to go into every home and office (and cell phone) in North America and expand its share of the sports and entertainment market. I can hear it now, “There’s nothing to do since the concert has been canceled.” “Oh yeah? I’m staying home so I can play the Pick Four at Woodbine.”

How could the tracks that have raced without spectators make it work so well when others ran into the corner with fear?

I just looked over my list of tracks that say they will open within thirty days. I’m glad to hear it. I hope they do open and others follow suit.

The time is now. We really missed a chance to get ahead and make up for lost ground in the last couple of months.

Now, as many areas begin to open up we have to try and survive, again.

Horse Racing Could Return to Woodbine in June

“We’ve had 1,100 horses on the track every morning for two months now and we haven’t had any cases, knock on wood.”

TORONTO – Jim Lawson is cautiously optimistic there could be live horse racing as early as next month.

Buoying the Woodbine Entertainment CEO’s optimism is the Ontario government’s gradual easing of COVID-19 restrictions Monday, allowing some mostly seasonal businesses to re-open. The novel coronavirus pandemic forced the suspension of harness racing at Woodbine Mohawk Park in March and postponement of the April 18 start of Woodbine Racetrack’s thoroughbred campaign, and subsequently the $1-million Queen’s Plate.

Woodbine via WO FB pageBut Lawson sees the Ontario government’s actions as a sign that racing could return in early June ahead of other sports entities because it could be done safely and without fans. While the pandemic forced all major sports to shut down, harness racing continued without spectators before being suspended.

“The big proviso is we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, governmental and health authorities because that’s the wrong thing to do,” Lawson said. “But I do think if restrictions are eased, we’ve shown and exhibited already we’re capable of doing this.

“Not only did live racing occur at Mohawk without gatherings but with what we’ve achieved in our backstretch the last two months, we feel comfortable we can conduct safe racing. And when you combine safe racing with 15,000-20,000 people whose livelihoods really depend on this, we feel we’re a good model to help kick-start the economy.”

While no racing has occurred at Woodbine Racetrack, Woodbine Entertainment has continued operating its backstretch providing daily care for approximately 1,100 horses. Access has been limited to essential personnel – no jockeys, agents, trainers or media are allowed – and those individuals must strictly adhere to guidelines entirely consistent with those established by government and health agencies.

“We don’t need stands and it’s not like we have players rubbing against each other,” Lawson said. “There’s physical distancing by definition.

Some of the measures implemented by Woodbine include …

British Horse Racing Suspension Extended Amid COVID-19 Concerns

UK Epsom Downs(Reuters) – British horse racing will remain suspended beyond April due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) said on Wednesday.

Racing activity was suspended last month until the end of April before the government introduced lockdown measures.

The BHA said in a statement https://www.britishhorseracing.com/press_releases/bha-extends-suspension-of-racing that it had not set a new date for ending the suspension but plans were in place so that the sport was ready to resume as soon as is possible.

“The BHA has been working with trainers, racecourses and other participants to develop a phased plan for resumption which will allow the sport to transition back to its normal fixture list later in the year,” it said.

“Our plans continue to allow for a resumption in May, if that’s possible. We assume it would be behind closed doors only, at a point when the safety of participants can be assured and the pressure on the health service allows.

“Because of the very strong likelihood that restrictions on mass gatherings will continue, the BHA has decided that racing with crowds will not be possible until June at the earliest.”

The BHA said tough biosecurity measures would be in place to keep any risks to a minimum once activities resume.

Reported cases of the new coronavirus crossed 2 million globally and more than 131,100 people have died, according to a Reuters tally as of 1400 GMT on Wednesday. [nL3N2BY1AH]

(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis)

Horse Racing Opinion Piece: Essential Business

by Art Parker

What is essential? People or a business?

Even though I now play online almost exclusively, I’ve been going to race tracks for decades. Last time I went to a track was last August when I visited my daughter in the Washington D.C. area. We slipped over to Laurel for the Friday afternoon card.

At Laurel that day, I observed the same things I’ve seen for years and years. Track employees and vendors. The people selling beer and hot dogs. People selling programs and Racing Forms. They didn’t charge for general parking but there was still a man at the gate watching cars go by. There were a couple of fellows handling valet parking. Naturally there was security and police as expected.

Empty row of seats at racetrackWe didn’t go where any real meals are served, but I imagine there was plenty of employees taking care of the many chores related to cooking and serving. And of course there were plenty of people constantly cleaning – I guess us horseplayers are just messy folks.

Of course there were pari-mutuel tellers taking bets. The list of people making things happen goes on and on. These people were there because patrons were there. You take away the patrons and all of a sudden a track is a ghost town.

The employees I didn’t mention are there to work – patrons or no patrons.

Here is my beef with the decision to close tracks because of the corona virus. If we race without patrons very little will be different than the days when there is no racing at all. Open the doors, be diligent with all precautions regarding the corona virus, let the patrons play online and let’s run.

Horse racing was slow to embrace television and that probably cost us a generation of potential players. When we caught up with the times and used technology, we held a possible edge – simulcasting and online wagering. In this day and time an enormous percentage of our handle comes from online wagering. I have been told by several that online wagering is now 85%-90% of horse racing’s handle. The sport is staying alive without patrons on site. Why shut it down? The risk for the few people is minimal. I read in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune where top trainer Bob Baffert said, “It’s safer out there (track) than going to a grocery store. Those are packed.”

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I think Baffert is right. In fact, I went to the grocery store yesterday and saw more people in close proximity than one would find in three gate crews.

The most interesting statement I have seen came from Southern California trainer John Sadler, who was quoted in the Press-Telegram as saying, “I don’t see how not racing the horses makes us any safer. This isn’t a factory where you can shut the doors and turn out the lights. People are still going to have to be there to look after these equine athletes.”

I’m sure the real problem with closing race tracks comes from the words “non-essential business” and “essential business.” What is not understood by decision makers is that while a race track may truly not be essential (like a grocery store), it can be closed but still open for business. Why? The non-essential people will not be there if the track is closed to patrons, but the essential people must be there regardless. I don’t know any thoroughbred that can take care of itself. They need to be bathed, groomed, exercised and fed. They can’t pick up the cell and call Pizza Hut to get a pizza delivered to the barn.

Comparatively speaking very few hands are needed if a track is running but closed to patrons. Have you ever been to morning workouts? If so, how many actual track employees were around?

With no patrons in attendance the handle will diminish some – no doubt about it. But purses can be adjusted for that and I promise the horseman would rather run for a little less than not run at all. Don’t forget that 100% of nothing is nothing.

Many horsemen are going to be in dire financial need if they can’t run. Many will go out of business and/or they will need to jettison some stock. Other trainers will not be willing to take stock off their hands because it will only deepen their financial burdens.

The corona virus is very serious and many precautions must be taken. But when it comes to horse racing I don’t think anyone will convince me the open track without patrons is more dangerous than a grocery store full of them inside an enclosed structure.

Horse Racing to Continue in Florida Despite…

Gov. DeSantis Issues Stay Home Order to Curb COVID-19 Spread effective Friday 4/3

One business, though, that won’t be affected by the Florida Republican’s order is the horse racing industry.

Representatives from both Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Park told Casino.org that it will remain business as usual at the two tracks even after the governor’s order goes into effect a minute past midnight on Friday.

Margo Flynn, vice president of Marketing at Tampa Bay Downs, said the track will continue to race as it has since mid-March.

Our plan is to run, with us being closed down to the public and the extraordinary measures we have regarding any horse personnel that need to take care of the horses regardless of the situation,” Flynn said.

Tampa Bay’s meet is scheduled to end on Sunday, May 3.

The latest on Horse Racing in Florida:

New Zealand Horse Racing Shut Down

From horsebetting.com.au

All racing in New Zealand is to be shut down for four weeks as the country moves to level four of the Covid-19 alert system.

New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing, Harness Racing New Zealand, Greyhound Racing New Zealand and the TAB, have met to discuss what steps the industry needs to take to protect the livelihoods of participants..

“While the country will effectively be in lockdown, the welfare of our animals remains as an essential service during this time,” NZ Thoroughbred Racing said.

“Horses and dogs will still need to be fed, exercised and cared for during this time.

“People caring for our animals will need to look at stringent procedures around staffing levels and any contact between staff members.

“We recognise that these are challenging times for everyone within our industry and we will be working closely with those impacted to help them through the coming weeks.”

New Zealand has been on level three alert and will move to level four from Wednesday which means:

  • People instructed to stay at home
  • Educational facilities closed
  • Businesses closed except for essential services (e.g. supermarkets, pharmacies, clinics) and lifeline utilities.
  • Rationing of supplies and requisitioning of facilities
  • Travel severely limited
  • Major reprioritisation of healthcare services.