The world of horse racing is in a state of flux, a new state of uncertainty. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to increase in scope and severity in the United States, the entirety of the horse racing world is changing to adapt.
There is no racetrack in America allowing spectators. Some tracks are postponing races entirely, though most seem to be hosting the races for simulcast wagering and so as not to disrupt the entire season.
But there was question that hung in the air amidst the changes of the past several weeks: What about the Kentucky Derby? We now have an answer.
Kentucky Derby Reschedules to September
Today, Churchill Downs made the announcement. The 146th Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, which was scheduled for May 2, 2020, will now take place on September 5.
Further, the 146th Longines Kentucky Oaks, which was set for May 1, will now run on September 4.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission must approve the new dates, but there is little reason to doubt an approval. Churchill Downs expects its answer on Thursday, March 19.
Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen said his team is committed to holding the “very best Kentucky Derby ever and certainly the most unique in any of our lifetimes.”
The announcement noted that any tickets for the originally-scheduled Kentucky Derby are automatically valid for the new race dates. New tickets will be mailed, but original tickets will be valid. For those unable to use their tickets for the new dates, they will be able to request refunds online as early as the end of this week.
Churchill Suspends Simulcasting
Along with the Kentucky Derby information was notice that Churchill Downs Racetrack voluntarily suspended simulcasting operations. A two-week hiatus started at midnight, Sunday, March 15.
The situation will be reassessed as this period comes to an end, when the team will decide whether to extend the suspension or resume simulcasting.
Preakness Stakes Follows Suit to September
As the news of the Kentucky Derby’s date change settled in today, many eyes were on the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. It didn’t take long to receive an answer.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced today that the Preakness Stakes will also move to September to follow the Derby. It had been scheduled for May 16, two weeks after the Kentucky Derby. While no date for the newly-scheduled Preakness has been announced, it is most likely to run on September 19.
At this time, the only word from the Maryland Jockey Club is that it is working with state and local governments, industry participants, media, and other affiliates to set the date. “As soon as we have further clarity on these matters, we will inform all.”
Belmont Stakes to Follow?
The third leg of the Triple Crown is considering its options. Carstanjen told the media that he informed the New York Racing Association and Belmont Park before announcing his decision.
The Belmont Stakes is currently set for June 6, 2020. The entire Belmont Stakes Racing Festival will kick off on June 4 and host 17 total stakes.
Today, New York Racing Association CEO and President Dave O’Rourke said the NYRA is working closely with all parties, including NBC Sports, to decide on the date of the 2020 Belmont Stakes. “NYRA will deliver an announcement only when that process has concluded to the satisfaction of state and local health departments. The Belmont Stakes is a New York institution with wide-reaching economic impact. We look forward to its 152nd edition in 2020.”
Not Entirely Unprecedented
If at all possible, a tradition should remain as rooted in tradition as possible, down to the exact date. Obviously, this is what all three hosts of Triple Crown races tried to do. However, a pandemic of the magnitude of COVID-19 is something out of everyone’s control.
It has been a few years since anything like this happened. In fact, it only happened once, in 1945. It was near the end of World War II, and the US Office of War Mobilization saw horse racing as an unnecessary expenditure of resources. To prevent the 71st Kentucky Derby from running as planned, the US government banned horse racing on January 3, 1945.
However, when the war ended on May 7, 1945, the government lifted the ban, and the Derby ran on June 9, 1945.