USA: Fair Grounds shuts down amid New Orleans coronavirus worries

Horse Racing Wells Bayou
Wire-to-wire: Wells Bayou (Florent Geroux) leads the Louisiana Derby field past the stand.
Photo: Hodges Photography/Fair Grounds Race Course

By Nicholas Godfrey

USA: Fair Grounds, the showpiece venue in New Orleans, has become the latest US venue to shut down owing to coronavirus – but not until after they had completed their marquee card on Saturday featuring the $1 million Louisiana Derby.

Wells Bayou wired the field in the main event to complete a stakes treble for trainer Brad Cox on the card, which took place behind closed doors, like all racing at Fair Grounds since March 13.

On Saturday, officials at America’s third-oldest racetrack issued a statement saying its 2019-20 meet would be finishing a week early owing to the worldwide health crisis.

The statement read: “In accordance with the ‘stay-home’ order issued by New Orleans mayor LaToya Cantrell, following public health concerns in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fair Grounds Race Course will suspend live racing operations effective immediately. The Fair Grounds Thoroughbred Racing Season was originally scheduled to run through March 29.

“Fair Grounds Race Course remains focused on the safety of members of the backside community who are vital to ensuring the care of the horses. In compliance with the Louisiana Racing Commission’s emergency order, we are committed to facilitating their safe and customary movement to tracks outside of New Orleans.”

Trainer Brad Cox was the star of the show on the Louisiana Derby card, where he won the last three stakes races run at Fair Grounds this season as Factor This claimed the Muniz Memorial before Juddmonte filly Bonny South took the Fair Grounds Oaks.

Florent Geroux, who rode Bonny South, then partnered Wells Bayou to wire the field in the Louisiana Derby, a G2 event offering the winner 100 qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby, which is postponed this year until September 5.

Despite all of his recent accomplishments, which include a win the 2018 Kentucky Oaks with Monomoy Girl, Cox has never started a horse in the Kentucky Derby. 

“We just have to figure out how to get him to the first Saturday in September and not May,” Cox said.“It is uncharted territory and we will do the best we can.”

• Oaklawn Park’s leading rider Ricardo Santana, chiefly known as Steve Asmussen’s go-to rider, will not be able to ride for 12 days at the Arkansas venue after travelling to New Orleans for the Louisiana Derby card.

Santana is a six-time leading rider at Oaklawn, which has controversially introduced quarantine regulations specific to jockeys who have visited Fair Grounds.

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