Kentucky Horse Racing Closed for Foreseeable Future

Posted By Jennifer Newell on April 10, 2020

The news about the coronavirus spread in the United States varies by media outlet and medical source. Most agree, though that the pandemic is not under control in the United States. And no matter the data, no one can accurately predict when the trend will slow or when a vaccine will be available.

Kentucky reported its first known positive case of COVID-19 on March 6, the same day Governor Andy Beshear declared a State of Emergency for the state. He began to implement social distancing guidelines, and by mid-March, Beshear signed an executive order for all public-facing businesses to cease operations.

On April 9, Beshear reported a new daily high number of 147 new COVID-19 cases in Kentucky. The total of positive cases was upped to 1,149 and the number of deaths to 65.

What this means for the horse racing industry is unknown. There is no clear answer as to when horse racing may resume, even without spectators.

KHRC Awaiting Governor Nod

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission addressed the issue at its April 2 teleconference meeting, though only to say that it was not ready to advise on a potential reopening date for racetracks.

Chairman Frank Kling noted, “We are unable at this time to suggest a timeline for the reopening of live racing.” HE also acknowledged that the unknown timeline is a challenge, but everyone must be flexible and responsive.

Churchill Downs President Kevin Flanery indicated a desire to launch racing without spectators, though only if and when Governor Beshear lifts the stay-at-home order for all residents of the state.

Red Mile COO Shannon Cobb said she is also keen to open the track to racing with no spectators if that is all the state will allow.

Beshear Warns of Months Before Racing

Governor Beshear hosted a press briefing on April 3, at which he fielded some questions about the state of horse racing. He said that gatherings of people for any reason – NBA, horse racing, etc. – is not plausible as long as the coronavirus numbers continue to escalate.

Regarding a timeline, Beshear was honest in his uncertainty, according to Thoroughbred Daily News.

“My answer is that it’s going to take as long to defeat this virus as it takes. We are talking about some term of months, and we’re not talking about some term of years. The moment we believe it is X days away is the moment people start relaxing on social distancing. We see the spike, and ultimately, we lose more people because of it.”

Beshear also took the press opportunity to mention that the Rood and Riddle veterinary clinic donated 1,200 surgical masks, 9,000 gloves, and 100 Tyvek suits to local hospitals to help with the influx of COVID-19-positive patients.

Horse Racing in Kentucky Budget…for Integrity

Businesses ranging from racetracks to trainers and jockeys are likely to need financial assistance to recover from the shutdowns. Most industries have suffered greatly. The horse racing industry will likely see the most aid from the federal government in the months to come.

Meanwhile, Kentucky did pass its one-year budget at the beginning of April. Despite knowing that the coronavirus pandemic already caused a great deal of economic pain, though, Kentucky legislators decided to address the integrity of horse racing.

Legislators set aside $2.1 million of the $11.3 billion budget for horse racing-specific items.

The state’s Equine Drug Research Council will transfer $1.5 million a testing facility at the University of Kentucky. The funds will be used to test the effects of various drugs on equine athletes. And the lab will serve as a national testing base for all medications.

The budget also allows for a new position – safety steward — the KHRC and more investigators to ensure Kentuckians are adhering to medication rules and catch those trying to skirt the laws and rules. Lawmakers set aside $500,000 for these jobs so Kentucky may lead the nation in racing integrity.

Finally, the budget allocated $100,000 for the University of Kentucky’s Sports Medicine Research Institute to study health concerns for jockeys, including concussions. The program is already underway, and new funding will further the research.

The equine industry as a whole contributes approximately $6.5 billion to Kentucky’s economy each year and well over 60,000 jobs. Racing operations alone contribute $832 million in direct state value and another $594 million in added competition value.


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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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