By Nicholas Godfrey and Jon Lees
USA: Churchill Downs is preparing to restart its racing programme in mid-May after the Kentucky Derby venue was given the green light to finally reopen its mammoth backstretch stable area.
Although a precise date is yet to be determined, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear on Wednesday issued the go-ahead for live racing to restart behind closed doors under strict coronavirus guidelines.
Although the Kentucky Derby has been postponed until September 5, the Churchill Downs Spring Meet for 2020 will kick off with spectator-free racing at a minimum of four days per week (Thursday to Sunday) once the track has fully reopened its stable area.
May 20 is the final scheduled date set for horses shipping in, so racing could theoretically be ready to return beneath the iconic Twin Spires in mid-May.
Speaking during a news conference on Wednesday, Beshear said: “We were able to come to an agreement (Tuesday) specifically with the group that’s going to start, Churchill Downs.
“They are going to start accepting horses and start accepting folks on their backside … on May 11. There will be no fans for racing. I will tell you this is one of the most detailed plans that we have seen about specific security checks that everybody has to go through and be temperature-checked to masking to having a very limited group that is there.”
Churchill Downs’ stable areas have been closed since December 31 for annual winter renovations and were originally scheduled to reopen on March 17. Because of the unique situation, there will be a phased, systematic and controlled return of horses and their personnel to the stable areas starting on Monday, May 11.
Churchill Downs racetrack president Kevin Flanery said: “We truly appreciate the leadership of Governor Beshear and all of the hard work and guidance that state and local officials and public health experts have provided us to safely reopen.
In California, the DRF reported that plans were advanced for Santa Anita to resume racing on May 15 following a break of nearly two months. in a letter to stakeholders track executive Aidan Butler wrote that Santa Anita was preparing to operate “under strict protocols,” and no spectators.
There was less encouraging news in New York where Governor Andrew Cuomo ruled out any chance of the prestigious Summer meet at Saratoga going ahead with spectators.
“You can’t open an attraction that could bring people from across the state,” he said during his daily briefing.
The New York Racing Association responded by announcing it has prepared plans to resume racing at Saratoga and Belmont behind closed doors. No dates for any resumption were disclosed.
At Woodbine, Canada, where all but a handful of staff have remained during the shutdown, the breezing of horses will be allowed from May 1 with racecourse CEO Jim Lawson saying he believed the track was six weeks away from staging live racing.