Just in the Nick of Time, Major Tracks Ready to Re-Open
Oaklawn Park, which remained open through the countrywide Coronavirus related shutdown, along with Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs, has closed for the season.
The gorgeous track in Hot Springs, Arkansas went out in a blaze of glory leaving horseplayers and fans yearning for more.
Last Saturday’s card featured split divisions of the Arkansas Derby. The first division was won by Charlatan and the second division was won by Nadal, both budding super stars. Also on the card was the Oaklawn Handicap, which was won by By My Standards, who could also have a bright future moving forward.
All told, Oaklawn’s final day grossed a staggering $41 million.
What $41 million represents is a sport that is still alive and kicking in a country that has been, more or less, crippled for the last several months.
With Oaklawn now shutdown, the question on everyone’s mind is “what’s next”?
Currently, the answer to that question is about 1 ½ weeks away but, like everything else associated with the Coronavirus, that answer is also pro-tem.
There are several major tracks around the country that are beginning to gear up for spectatorless, reopening led by Churchill Downs on May 16th.
As of this writing, I have listed the current state of racing at several major locations around the country below.
Before we get to that, let’s look at the vaunted Triple Crown series situation, which continues to be turned on it’s head.
Currently, the Kentucky Derby is scheduled to be run on Sept. 5th. It was very recently announced that the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, has been moved from May 16th to October 3rd.
This instantly throws an enormous monkey wrench in the sports flagship series as the Preakness has been run two weeks after the Kentucky Derby for as long as anyone can remember. With this move, does this year even qualify for a Triple Crown regardless of what the New York Racing Association (NYRA) does with the Belmont Stakes? At this writing, it is unclear what NYRA’s plan are. If a horse wins all three races, on different dates than the norm, is he really a Triple Crown winner? That is probably another argument for another article. As I told my editor Denise, as crazy as it sounds, I’m starting to think I don’t even want a Triple Crown winner this year, as it’ll cause way too much controversy. I never thought I’d hear myself say that.
NYRA is in a quite an awkward situation as they seem to have been painted into a corner. If they stay the course and run the Belmont Stakes, which is the last race in the trio of races, on June 9th it will be the first run race in the series. On top of that, if they move it to any date before May 16th it will still be the first race, yet if they move it to after the Preakness it will fall right smack dab into the Breeders’ Cup series. I do not envy their situation, that’s for sure.
Other Major Tracks:
Churchill Downs isn’t the only major track gearing up for reopening. It appears Santa Anita Park has come to an agreement with Los Angeles County to resume racing on May 15th.
They have even recently published a condition book that includes the Santa Anita Derby and the Santa Anita Oaks both to be run on Saturday, June 6th.
Down in Florida, Gulfstream Park will remain on it’s normal schedule and Tampa Bay Downs has extended its meet through May 30th.
Del Mar will also open as planned for its originally scheduled race dates from July 18th-Sept. 7th. From what I understand, the meet will include a new Kentucky Derby prep race; stay tuned for more on that as we get closer. The Los Alamitos summer meet is scheduled as planned for two weeks, June 25th-July 5th and Golden Gate Fields was given a green light to open May 14th.
Other Minor Tracks:
Two tracks that have become beneficiaries to the major tracks closing include Fonner Park and Will Rogers Downs. Will Rogers will continue until May 23rd. Fonner applied for a meet extension, and will remain open until May 31st.
In the mid-Atlantic area, there are several tracks seemingly ready to re-open. West Virginia tracks Charles Town and Mountaineer Park have been given clearance to open.
Charles Town will re-start on May 14th while Mountaineer Park’s meet is scheduled to open on May 31st.
Laurel and Pimlico in Maryland and Parx Park and Penn National Presque Isle in Pennsylvania are finalizing plans and will announce when racing in those states might be able to resume in the next few days.
Presque Isle Downs is targeting June 8th for the start of its meet.
Maryland’s MTHA said to plan for a “mid-May resumption of live racing.” Over in New Jersey, Monmouth Park has already pushed back its original June 1st opening day to July 3rd. As of now, the date for the Haskell Invitational on July 18th remains the same.
Delaware Park’s website lists its opening day as May 27th.
Lone Star Park in Texas and Canterbury Park in Minnesota are also close to opening. Lone Star’s stable area re-opened on May 4th, but has not committed to a date when it might start racing. Canterbury’s stable area will re-open on May 8th, and mentioned plans to start racing again in early June.
Up in Canada, Woodbine said in late April that the track was ”approximately six weeks away from returning live racing.”
On The Fence
Perhaps the most anticipated track reopening remains in New York, which was the hardest hit city in this country by the Coronavirus and quite possibly the world.
NYRA is considering a return to spectatorless racing at Belmont Park as early as May 29th. NYRA has said it intends to host its summer racing season at Saratoga as planned but without spectators, from July 16th-Sept. 7th.
The state of Illinois is struggling as well. Arlington’s original opening day of May 1st was first pushed back to June 1st, and then later labelled as “postponed indefinitely”.
Hawthorne has no plans to re-open for Thoroughbred racing until its casino is finished in October. Fairmount Park is still in limbo as well.
Slowly but surely, the sport of horse racing has a “leg up” on the other sports in making its return. Having said that, the venues that will be returning in the near future will be without spectators, which of course, is better than nothing.
Gulfstream Park: Open
Tampa Bay Downs: Open through May 30th
Santa Anita: Opening May 15th
Churchill Downs: Opening May 16th
Fonner Park: Open through May 31st
Will Rogers Downs: Open through May 23rd
Charles Town: Resuming May 14th
Mountaineer Park: Opening May 31st
Delaware Park: Opening May 27th (according to website)
Presque Isle Downs: Earliest opening June 8th
Monmouth Park: Opening July 3rd
Los Alamitos (day): Open June 25th-July 5th
Belmont Park: Targeting May 29th opening (tentative)
Saratoga: Plans regular dates July 16th-Sept. 7th
Del Mar: Plans regular dates July 18th –Sept. 7th
Lone Star Park: Stable area opens May 4th, live racing to follow
Canterbury Park: Stable area re-opens May 8th; live racing in June
Penn National: Racing dates pending
Parx: Racing dates pending
Laurel: Racing dates pending
Pimlico: Racing dates pending
Woodbine: Open mid-June (tentative)
Arlington: Postponed indefinitely
The future of Standardbred Racing is also touch and go.
Yonkers issued the following statement: “The health and safety of our guests and employees remain our highest priorities. We continue to monitor the evolving Covid19 situation and closely follow guidelines from the CDC and local health officials.” Any return to racing has not been mentioned.
Pocono Park and the Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen’s Association cancelled live racing for March16th. Management said the decision was made “with an abundance of caution in mind for the current situation within regional racing jurisdictions.” The track remains in day to day status.
Meadowlands GM Jason Settlemoir said: “We wanted to go and get everyone raced, but you get to a point where the possible negative consequences outweigh the positive aspects. So we’ll follow all developments closely and keep everyone informed of the status of live racing in the near future.” Nothing further from them recently.
Also in New Jersey, Freehold cancelled racing and was planning to resume on March 21st but that is now off the table as racing there for the rest of the year. “We looked at possible alternate dates, but with an already crowded fall stakes season and other tracks looking to move signature races to the fall, cancelling the races became the best option for this year,” said Howard Bruno, Freehold Raceway General Manager.
In Delaware, Dover Downs cancelled March 12th. Dover officials said they were going to resume March 16th, however they too are shutdown indefinitely.
Outside of North America, Denmark and Italy canceled all scheduled racing since March 10th. The ban was supposed to have lasted to the end of March, but as of the first week in May, they are still without racing.
In France, several race days have been run but without public attendance before shutting down. Albeit, they are also in talks of reopen as early as the end of May.