The COVID-19 pandemic is upending daily life as we know it. The ripple effects continue to be felt everywhere, including throughout the horse racing community. The postponement of major races and closures of certain tracks has resulted in a strong sense of uncertainty.
On Tuesday, National Thoroughbred Racing Association President and CEO Alex Waldrop participated in a teleconference. While previewing the upcoming Louisiana Derby was part of the focus, he took the time to address the situation at hand.
“If you’re going to do this, you’ve got to be responsible,” Waldrop said in part while also stressing the importance of taking “care of the individuals on the racetrack.”
The sports world as a whole is essentially on hiatus for the foreseeable future due to the crisis. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes have already been postponed, and it wouldn’t be stunning to see the Belmont Stakes follow.
For regular day-to-day horse racing, Park and Turf Paradise are among the venues which have suspended racing for the time being, while Keeneland has cancelled its spring meet. Other tracks across the nation remain up and running for now.
As Waldrop sees it, that presents a unique opportunity for horse racing.
“This is a time for racing to distinguish itself,” he said, later adding that the chance is there for the sport to “sell itself to a new audience.”
Waldrop is on the money in that regard. All of the major team and individual sports in North America have been put on hold. Naturally, that leaves a gigantic void on the entertainment calendar of fans, many of whom are heeding the advice on social distancing and limiting public exposure.
On the call, trainer Mark Casse echoed those sentiments.
“It gives people something to do,” he said, “and we might get a few new racing fans.”
Of course, the safety of those tasked with putting on the races of the utmost importance, and Waldrop made it clear that was the priority for those that choose to continue operating.
“I think the racetracks and horsemen are taking the challenge seriously,” he said.
The news cycle has been moving fast and furious in recent weeks – even more so than normal – but it’s business as usual at a number of tracks. Sans spectators, that is.
Casse noted that it’s an unusual situation, but added that “it’s a necessity right now, so we’re getting through it.”
For now, horse racing fans still have regular races to look forward to, and it’s certainly possible that new fans will be attracted to the sport in the absence of other options.
However, the elephant in the room suggests that even more tracks could choose to postpone races in the future, but we’ll have to take a wait and see approach.
Across the pond, that has become a reality. The British Horse Racing Authority has announced that horse racing is suspended until the end of April.
“This is a national emergency the likes of which most of us have never seen before. We’re a sport that is proud of its connection to rural communities and to the local businesses that support our industry,” said BHA Chief Executive Nick Rust. “But our first duty is to the health of the public, our customers and to racing industry participants and staff so we have decided to suspend racing following the government’s latest advice.
We are all in the midst of unprecedented times, so predictions on how it will all play out would be misguided. For now, we can enjoy the diversion provided by full cards of horse racing action, but it would be wise to consider this to be one of the many situations which are currently in flux.