One test from one physical exam could be the last straw for the horse racing industry in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Longtime jockey Javier Castellano tested positive for COVID-19 last week, though he has been and remains asymptomatic. Just days before he was set to ride in the Florida Derby this past weekend, Castellano had to self-quarantine instead.
While his agent indicated that Castellano is fine, the spread of the coronavirus into the stables, into the heart of racing at a time when little of it is still active, is prompting some to question whether there should be any races running at all during this time.
Routine Exam Leads to Alarming Result
Gulfstream Park requested the exam. The 42-year-old Castellano was set to ride Candy Tycoon in the Florida Derby this past Saturday. But having be in New York – the epicenter of the coronavirus spread in the United States – the track required him to submit to a physical and COVID-19 test last week.
The result came back in just two days. It was positive.
Castellano took to Twitter to announce the result.
“After being in New York with my family last week, I was asked by Gulfstream to come early to Florida to get tested for the virus. I was asymptomatic all along. Unfortunately the test came back last night as positive. I am otherwise healthy but will follow the doctors orders to quarantine for the next 2 weeks. I have had no contact with anyone that has tested positive. I appreciate the support from everyone including Gulfstream Park. Stay safe everyone and we will all get through this God willing.”
John Panagot, Castellano’s agent, issued a statement on Twitter as well.
“It was confirmed this morning that Javier Castellano tested positive for COVID-19. … Javier is asymptomatic and feels fine and healthy. He jogged 3 miles Wednesday and had looked forward to riding this weekend at Gulfstream. He will self-isolate until he is medically cleared.”
There was no question that Castellano would not ride in the Florida Derby. Gulfstream executive Bill Badget said the meet would continue, as Castellano hadn’t been to Gulfstream Park since March 15. “There’s no reason to believe he infected other jockeys, horsemen or GP employees,” he said.
Less than a week before Castellano’s announcement, Gulfstream Park did suspend all racing on March 20 to update its cleaning and safety protocols in areas like the Jockeys’ Room. The park wanted to ensure that measures were in place to protect the essential personnel who cared for the 3200+ horses stabled at Gulfstream and its two sister properties.
Going forward, the track established social distancing rules for the essential personnel and limited access for owners and media. No one was allowed to bring guests, and all racing crew had to wear gloves and refrain from any physical contact.
Florida Derby Runs with No Spectators
Gulfstream did host the Curlin Florida Derby on Saturday, March 28. There was no cheering from the stands, no throngs of spectators milling around, eating and drinking, or placing wagers. No one cheered the jockeys toward the finish line. No one threw their longshot betting ticket on the ground.
The Grade I race was the 69th Florida Derby and headlined a program of 14 races worth $1.825 million in cumulative purses. The Derby itself was worth $750,000, though that had been reduced from $1 million due to the current economic environment.
Favorite Tiz the Law was 6-5 with Manuel Franco as the jockey and Barclay Tagg as the trainer. And Sackatoga Stable’s Tiz the Law did win the race by 4 ¼ lengths, securing a spot in the Kentucky Derby.
As it turns out, Tiz the Law is the favorite going into the Kentucky Derby as well. And Jack Knowlton of Sackatoga Stable is not surprised. “All we know is that we’ve got a horse that’s very special,” he said, “and it’s pretty exciting for us.”
Castellano and Coronavirus Fallout
While the Florida Derby went off without a hitch, so to speak, Castellano’s absence was glaring.
Tim Wilkin of The Times Union was the most outspoken of the voices so far calling for the racing industry to stop all races until the worst of the virus passes. He noted that the New York Racing Association ended all NY racing when a positive case came to light from Belmont Park.
Though Wilkin understands the desire for tracks like Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita to continue running with no spectators, he said it boils down to the “safety and the health of people.”