Things are eventually going to get back to normal. What does that mean for horse racing? If we follow the template laid out by tracks that have still been operating in the midst of Covid-19, the new reality may be racing without spectators, at least for a little while.
The National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protection Association is among the groups looking to get ahead of the curve. On Monday, the group shared a detailed plan on how to get tracks back up and running safely in the current environment. From the release:
The National HBPA in conjunction with horsemen and racing officials has put together these guidelines using existing successful protocols of tracks successfully operating and racing spectator free during the COVID-19 crisis. This document is intended as a resource for horsemen, race track operators or governing bodies and these recommendations do not replace clinical recommendations of health and veterinary authorities. These guidelines may evolve as they are implemented into practice and as we receive feedback. Finally, these guidelines were developed based on best practice protocols and procedures currently being utilized. Local factors should be taken into account if utilized with full understanding that these guidelines are informational and do not represent any assurance that the suggested action is all that is necessary or the optimum approach for a particular track. While the NHBPA wants to promote safe, healthy, live racing, it recognizes the rapidly changing health environment and must disclaim any liability for use of these guidelines.
The detailed plan goes through a number of specific recommendations, which are broken down into five main categories.
- Recommended Coronavirus Policies for Maintaining Spectator Free Racing
- Stable Gate (entrance to barn area) and Backside Security
- Suggested Cleaning and Hygiene Protocols
- Restricted Access Protocols
- Access to the Jockeys’ Room and Jockeys’ Room Restricted Protocols
It’s an impressive list of proposed steps to take that includes a number of practical initiatives. As Eric Hamelback, chief executive officer of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association, explains, the goal isn’t necessarily for this to be an all-encompassing action plan, but rather a tool that can help to serve as a guideline as the industry gets back on its feet.
“We’re not trying to tell government, health officials and racing commissions what to do,” Hamelback said. “Our intent is to provide insight into protocols that are working successfully at two of the largest race meets in America, Gulfstream and Oaklawn Park, and elsewhere. We hope it provides a path forward and others will continue to develop best practices. Horse racing is different from other industries in that our workers must continue to feed, exercise, bathe and groom our horses. That is going on across the country at many more tracks than are currently racing. It’s notable that the actual racing component involves far fewer people to stage than morning training.
“The COVID-19 health and economic crisis has devastated industries. Horseracing and its supporting agribusinesses are no different; and while income has ceased, expenses have remained constant. However, unlike many businesses and industries, horse racing has a solution. Spectator-free racing poses a minimal safety risk, is cost-effective, and logistically practical while still adhering to current national and state safety protocols. Every racetrack has a surrounding community that will benefit if horse racing is allowed to be conducted under these highly controlled conditions.”
While a blanket timeline for the reopening of the US is just not realistic at the present time, glimmers of hope are beginning to emerge. Certain states are aiming to ease restrictions in the coming days and weeks, while the hardest hit areas will naturally be taking longer than that.
Pointing to an exact day when the racing circuit will be back to relative normalcy would be nothing more than speculation at this point, but the good news is that groups such as the HBPA are doing their best to cover as many bases as possible.