COVID-19: Horse racing in Britain cancelled, Kentucky Derby postponed

Horse Racing Churchill Downs
Churchill Downs: The Kentucky Derby has been postponed until September.

GB: The Coronavirus pandemic has claimed two of the world’s biggest horse races after the Grand National was cancelled in Britain and the Kentucky Derby was suspended until September – and racing in Britain will shut down completely from Wednesday.

The Grand National, which has a worldwide following, fell victim to a rising health crisis which has now led to the British Horseracing Authority abandoning plans to continue behind closed doors and calling a halt to the racing programme in Britain from Wednesday, March 17, until the end of April.

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The sport depended on the availability of doctors and ambulances but with cases of coronavirus rising the medical cover could no longer be provided.

BHA chief executive Nick Rust said: “This is a national emergency the like of which most of us have never seen before. 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.

He added: “By stopping racing, we can free up medical resources, doctors and ambulances, be they private sector or NHS, to assist in the national effort to fight this virus.”

The BHA followed France Galop in suspending racing. Racing continues in Ireland behind closed doors but the policy is under review.

The Kentucky Derby will be rescheduled from May 2 to September 5 and the Kentucky Oaks will move from May 1 to September 4. The  dates are contingent upon final approval from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen said: “Throughout the rapid development of the COVID-19 pandemic, our first priority has been how to best protect the safety and health of our guests, team members and community. 

“The most recent developments have led us to make some very difficult, but we believe, necessary decisions and our hearts are with those who have been or continue to be affected by this pandemic.  

“Our team is united in our commitment to holding the very best Kentucky Derby ever and certainly the most unique in any of our lifetimes. While we are always respectful of the time-honored traditions of the Kentucky Derby, our Company’s true legacy is one of resilience, the embracing of change and unshakeable resolve.”

The dates of the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, the other two legs of the US Triple Crown, may also be moved.

New York Racing Association CEO & President, Dave O’Rourke, said in a statement: “NYRA is working closely with all appropriate parties, including media rights holder NBC Sports, to make a determination about the timing of the 2020 Belmont Stakes.

“As the coronavirus pandemic continues to upend American life, decisions about large-scale public events must prioritize public health and safety above all else. 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.”

How major racing countries have reacted to COVID-19

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS (includes The Championships at Randwick on April 4 and 11)


CANCELLED All racing (including Woodbine, was due to start April 13)

CANCELLED including Dubai World Cup on March 28

CANCELLED – All racing until April 15 (meetings lost include Prix Djebel, Prix d’Harcourt) 

Great Britain
CANCELLED – All racing until end of April (including All-Weather Finals, Lincoln meeting at Doncaster and Grand National meeting at Aintree)

CANCELLED – All racing until April 18

Hong Kong
BEHIND CLOSED DOORS – All racing (owners now allowed, whether they have runner or not)

CANCELLED – All racing until at least April 19



New Zealand
CANCELLED – All racing for four weeks after March 23 


Saudi Arabia
CANCELLED – Season halted on March 14

RACING CONTINUES – with checks and crowd limits

South Africa
CANCELLED – All racing until at least April 17

South America
– Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay until end of March

South Korea

POSTPONED – Kentucky Derby until September 5
CANCELLED – Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Keeneland Spring Meet (April 2-24), Laurel, Parx, Penn National, Sunland Park until April 4 (includes Sunland Park Derby)
BEHIND CLOSED DOORS – all other major tracks (including Gulfstream Park, Oaklawn Park, Santa Anita)

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