The economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis is being felt everywhere. We can include the horse racing industry on that lengthy list. While a handful of tracks continue to run in the absence of spectators, many more are in a state of flux.
As scores of businesses come to terms with the fact that there’s only so much they can do in the absence of revenue, reality continues to creep in. There’s just no clear cut answer as to when things will return to normal, and the ripple effects of that are being felt all over the place.
For horse racing, the limited live racing schedule has a trickle down impact throughout the sport. From owners and trainers to stable workers, states and cities relying on tax revenue to venue personnel, it’s a time that won’t soon be forgotten.
The National Thoroughbred Racing Association is doing all that it can to prepare for a return to normalcy. As NTRA president and CEO Alex Waldrop noted in an interview on Monday, it’s a complex situation as “every locality is different. There is no national approach, there really isn’t a state approach.”
“Defensible arguments, and perhaps the only arguments,” he added, “are going to be health and safety related.”
That’s a full-time focus in and of itself, but the NTRA is also pushing to make sure the industry isn’t forgotten when it comes to receiving emergency funding via federal stimulus programs.
For example, the US Small Business Administration is helping to facilitate much-needed loans to operators of all shapes and sizes. However, there are hurdles to overcome as there are limitations being placed on gambling-related entities. Waldrop is among those leading the charge for changes.
“We’re on the Hill right now, working on what’s called the fourth version, or some call it 3.5. It’s another piece of emergency legislation,” Waldrop said. “Lord knows, we’re trying our best to get emergency funding to the industry every day. And we’ll be there for the next two, three, four emergency bills, or whatever there are.”
Beyond the money, Waldrop also made it clear that the various venues need to at least remain available for stabling. Absent that, he sees even more pain ahead for the industry.
“That’s the last thing we want to see,” he continued. “I don’t know how long it’s going to last. It looks like some markets will open individually.”
There’s optimism that certain pockets of the country could have restrictions begin to be lifted before too long. That said, it’s an evolving situation that continues to develop. While it would be fantastic to have a clear cut target to shoot for, reality suggests it’s a moving one that’s subject to change.
Despite the challenges that lay ahead, Waldrop notes that horse racing is uniquely positioned in the current environment. As mentioned, several tracks continue to operate without fans – including Gulfstream Park and Oaklawn Park – so that can serve as a template for other venues getting up and running as soon as they’re able to.
“Among sports venues, certainly, racetracks are poised to be one of the first to open without fans,” he continued. “Tracks that have been running are a great example of how tracks can resume in the interim.”
In a perfect world, it won’t be too long before the situation is behind us and we can all look forward to a full slate of racing action taking place at venues across the country. In the interim, hats off to those who continue to provide a welcome diversion while doing all that they can to continue operating racing venues safely in the current climate.