CURRENT OUTLOOK FOR A 2020 KENTUCKY DERBY WITH ON-TRACK SPECTATORS

With less than three months to the rescheduled 2020 Kentucky Derby on September 5, a key question is whether the race will be run?  The answer is almost certainly affirmative because the wagering would be huge even if it came exclusively via internet and phone.  The speculative question is whether fans will be in attendance at the racetrack.

About a month ago, Churchill Downs released an understandably vague statement that read in part:

“Our team relishes the challenge of the September Derby and is deeply committed to holding the very best Kentucky Derby ever and certainly the most unique in any of our lifetimes.  September 5 is still 4 months away.  A lot can happen in our country, and I expect that it will.  We will adjust and respond to whatever the circumstances and will work tirelessly with state and local officials to develop any and all necessary protocols and procedures to make our event a safe and responsible spectator event.”

A respected poll recently found that 66% of the American public intends to avoid crowds.  This will have to change dramatically for events like the Indianapolis 500 in late August and the Kentucky Derby in early September to attract a typically large crowd, even if the events go off as planned.  An effective vaccine could be the catalyst for reducing much of the fear of large crowds, but the most optimistic estimate I’ve seen for a vaccine is mid-to-late fall.

The view here is that the health after effects of the recent crowd gatherings over incidents of police brutality in the United States will provide an early quantitative fact-based indicator of whether a September Kentucky Derby, with on-track fans, will be feasible.  Health officials expressed concerns about the protest crowds spreading the coronavirus.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious diseases expert, said: “It’s a perfect set-up for further spread of the virus in terms of creating some blips that could turn into some surges.  There certainly is a risk.”

Ominously, multiple soldiers from the D.C. National Guard have already tested positive for Covid 19 after assisting the police with crowd control during protests and looting.

If coronavirus cases markedly spike, especially among people who attended the protests, that would obviously be a very negative sign for holding a Kentucky Derby with fans in attendance.  On the other hand, if pandemic cases do not spike, the chances improve for a Derby with on-track spectators. 

Unfortunately, Johns Hopkins University’s tally of five-day moving averages of the number of new coronavirus cases already shows Arizona, California, Texas, and other states experiencing a rise in confirmed cases as they lift restrictions intended to slow the virus. This certainly does not bode well for fans in the stands at fall 2020 sporting events.

It seems logical that if the Kentucky Derby can’t proceed with on-track fans in September, then neither can other sporting events like college and NFL football. 

As the summer of 2020 continues, Horse Racing Business will have at least one more assessment of the chances for a Kentucky Derby with fans at the track.

Copyright © 2020 Horse Racing Business

ABOUT THE CAREER-ENDING INJURY TO NADAL

The world of sports is replete with hypotheticals, or “what ifs,” and such an intriguing hypothetical arose last week when the undefeated 3-year-old colt Nadal suffered a lateral condylar fracture during a work at Santa Anita.  While it is impossible to answer hypotheticals with surety, the owners of Nadal cannot help thinking about what might have been if:

(a) There had been no coronavirus pandemic that caused the Triple Crown races to be rescheduled and (b) the colt would have been stabled at a more horse-friendly racetrack than Santa Anita.

Had the Kentucky Derby been run on May 2 and the Preakness on May 16, as planned, Nadal on May 28 (the day of his career-ending injury), conceivably would have been prepping for an attempt to complete the Triple Crown on June 6.  Further, on the morning of May 28, he might have been working at Belmont Park rather than on the perilous surface at Santa Anita that has produced so many racehorse injuries and fatalities.  In this scenario, the injury to Nadal might not have occurred at all.

At the very least, had the Triple Crown races not been rescheduled owing to the pandemic, Nadal would have had a chance to run in the Kentucky Derby and likely the Preakness as well.  The injury he suffered could have come under the stress of one of these races, but there is no way of knowing.

Although hypotheticals cannot be definitively answered, one aspect of the Nadal injury is certain based on plenty of conclusive data: that is, Nadal was being worked on a racetrack proven to be unsafe, as evidenced by a plethora of well-publicized injuries and fatalities that forced a temporary closure .  How many incidents must there be at Santa Anita before owners and trainers recognize the track’s dirt and grass surfaces are hazardous? Why was a Kentucky Derby favorite subjected to the Santa Anita risk?

The connections of Nadal had no control over a pandemic forcing the rescheduling of the Triple Crown races. But they had absolute control over where the colt trained.

Copyright © 2020 Horse Racing Business

ACCOMPLISHED WOMEN PURSUING THE FAMILY BUSINESS OF HORSE RACING

Making a living in horse racing is not for the faint of heart.  It involves long hours and the emotional makeup to cope with adversity and fickle fate.  Yet children raised close to the sport often choose to pursue some aspect of racing as an occupation.

Well-known names come to mind when one thinks of men who are training racehorses, as did their fathers before them—Bob Baffert, Norm Casse, Todd Pletcher, and Dale Romans, to name a few.  But what struck me while watching a lot of racing on TV during the ongoing pandemic is the number of current female trainers and television commentators in horse racing who hail from racing families.

While I am sure I’ll leave someone out, following is a sampling of women active in horse racing with generational ties to the sport:

Christina Blacker, daughter of retired jockey Frank Olivares.

Caton Bredar, daughter of trainer Raymond Metzler and granddaughter of HOF jockey Ted Atkinson.

Donna Brothers, daughter of Patti Barton, the first female jockey to win 1,000 races.

Cherie DeVaux, daughter of trotter/pacer trainer Adrian DeVaux and sister of harness driver Jimmy DeVaux.

Britney Eurton, daughter of trainer Peter Eurton.

Gabby and Lacey Gaudet, daughters of trainers Linda and Eddie Gaudet.

Linda Rice, daughter of Clyde Rice.  (Clyde was a boyhood friend of HOF trainer D. Wayne Lukas.)

Maggie Wolfendale, daughter of trainer Howard Wolfendale.

Christina Blacker, Donna Brothers, Gabby Gaudet, and Maggie Wolfendale are married to trainers and Cherie DeVaux is married to a bloodstock agent.

Without exception, putting these women in front of fans as race analysts and commentators, or as trainers, is a huge benefit to improving the public’s image and understanding of horse racing.  Their family backgrounds make them very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the sport and they are poised and articulate when on-air as commentators or doing interviews as trainers.

The trailblazer for women in American horse racing was Mary Hirsch McLennan, daughter of HOF trainer Max Hirsch and sister of HOF trainer William “Buddy” Hirsch.  Mary Hirsch was the first woman in the United States to obtain a trainers’ license from the Jockey Club, the first woman to be the trainer of record for a horse entered at Saratoga, the first woman trainer in the Kentucky Derby, and the only woman to train a winner of the Travers. 

Copyright © 2020 Horse Racing Business