Can American Horse Racetracks Remain Open Through the Season?

Posted on July 10, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic is a wild ride. It has affected nearly every aspect of American life in 2020.

Covid-19’s wrath most certainly did not spare the equine industry, and it impacted the horse racing sector extensively when nearly every racetrack around the country closed in March. The closures coincided with every other nonessential business in America (and many other countries), from restaurants to casinos and everything in between.

When states began to emerge from months of quarantine in May and June, they authorized the reopenings of many businesses. Most horse racetracks were included in that process, though nearly every track restricted or excluded fans altogether.

The problem with the reopenings was that the virus spread had barely begun to subside. The number of infections in most states did decline, but few states saw the 14-day continuous decline of cases as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, in a rush to reopen, horse tracks were among the great many industries that decided to open when the states gave the green lights.

Perhaps it was too much, too soon.

Some tracks are now considering closing again due to spikes in the number of coronavirus cases. At the very least, they may again ban all spectators, just as they were allowing some to return.

As nearly every state in America experiences a surge of positive cases and outbreaks of serious infections, racetracks are among the businesses that could close again.

Temporary Covid-Related Suspensions

Texas is one of the states with the most drastic surges of new Covid cases in the past several weeks.

It prompted Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie to suspend all racing until further notice. In fact, the track stopped operations after the first race on July 5. According to the property, one of its employees “involved in racing operations” tested positive for the virus. The track then stopped racing, quarantined all necessary persons, and began contact tracing.

Indiana Grand decided yesterday to close its jockeys’ room to non-exclusive riders. The Indiana Horse Racing Commission and Indiana Grand decided together to require all thoroughbred and quarter horse jockeys at the track to ride only at that track beginning July 10.

Coronavirus deaths spiked this week in Indiana, which prompted Indiana Grand to implement this change just days after reopening for live racing.

Possibilities for Second Shutdowns

Santa Anita Park in the Los Angeles area is at the highest risk of a shutdown thus far.

Just a few weeks ago, as California’s Covid numbers began to rise again, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported that 17 people at Santa Anita tested positive for COVID-19. Track owner Stronach Group responded that most of the cases were not connected and must have entered the area from somewhere else.

Acting Executive Director Aidan Butler asserted that the cluster of cases does not represent an outbreak. “While you can always do better, we thought our safety protocols were very effective and prevented any kind of major outbreak.”

The states with the most startling COVID case increases are Arizona, Florida, and Texas. Others with steadily rising numbers include Louisiana, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Nevada, California, and Utah.

If their numbers continue to rise, it is almost inevitable that the virus will spread to people in the equine industry and then into tracks. It would not be surprising to see some local and state officials walk back their reopenings. For racetracks, that could involve reverting back to spectator-less racing or even another racing pause.

Horse tracks are powerful and may be able to prevent further shutdowns, but any notable upswings in positive cases at or near a track may override that influence.

 

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Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell is a freelance writer living in her hometown of St. Louis after stints in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. She has written about poker for more than 15 years but added other forms of gambling and horse racing to her repertoire in the last few years. She grew up with a love for horse racing from her now-late father, who loved to play the ponies. Jennifer can be found on Twitter at @writerjen.

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