Greg Cote of the Miami Herald just published an article titled “Is MLB Walking into a Mess it will Regret,” which discussed whether the 2020 season should be played at all. He asked a troubling question: “Should it be happening…in the midst of a pandemic that has taken more than 120,000 lives and is showing a worrisome uptick in cases?”

The very same question looms large about the 2020 Kentucky Derby, at least a Derby with fans in attendance trackside.

Consider pertinent facts pertaining to Churchill Downs, Inc.’s decision to hold a scaled-down 2020 Kentucky Derby complete with spectators.

First, the coronavirus is spiking in 29 states as people venture out and try to resume some semblance of their lives before the coronavirus.  On Meet the Press this past Sunday, Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar warned the country that increased outbreaks in southern and southwestern states are likely to spiral out of control without immediate intervention.

He cautioned: “The window is closing.  We have to act, and people as individuals have to act responsibly. We need to social-distance. We need to wear our face-coverings if we’re in settings where we can’t social-distance, particularly in these hot zones.”

A 2020 Kentucky Derby with spectators is not acting responsibly because crowds spread Covid-19.

Second, all public events with ties to the Kentucky Derby, such as the parade and Derby-eve charitable fundraising events, have been cancelled over Covid-19 concerns.

Third, the World Championship Horse Show at the Kentucky State Fair, held the week prior to the Derby, will not be able to have spectators by edict of Kentucky governor Andy Beshear.  (The fairgrounds is located less than four miles from Churchill Downs.) Why a horse show that draws perhaps 5,000 fans on its closing night in a 19,000-seat arena is deemed unsafe for spectators but the Derby with a much larger crowd is not is inexplicable. 

Fourth, the most optimistic projection for a Covid-19 vaccine is early 2021.

Fifth, while the Kentucky Derby 2020 is about two months away, the pandemic is likely to be worse in September than it is now. The World Health Organization said on June 29 that “the worst is yet to come.”

Given the forgoing facts, as of July 2020, there is no sound reason to believe the Derby can be held safely with spectators.  Even with reduced attendance, the Derby will be a contagion enabler, particularly in light of the party-like atmosphere and booze that encourage social proximity rather than social distancing.  

Moreover, from a business standpoint, Churchill Downs is inviting lawsuits from attendees and employees who later claim they contracted Covid-19 as a result of track management’s negligence. (On Monday, the union representing Las Vegas hospitality workers filed a lawsuit against casino operators for allegedly failing to protect employees from Covid-19.)

The board of directors and upper management of Churchill Downs have shown themselves to be skilled executives who have richly rewarded long-term shareholders. With the obvious health and financial risks of a Derby with spectators, they surely may soon reconsider and prudently decide to run a spectator-free Derby after all…following the lead of states that have reversed course and once again closed restaurants and other facilities as cases of Covid-19 have increased dramatically.

In the words of Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Center for Disease Control about the pandemic: “This is really the beginning. I think there was a lot of wishful thinking around the country that, hey its summer, everything is going to be fine…We are not over this and we are not even beginning to be over this.”

Copyright © 2020 Horse Racing Business


Legalization of sports betting by state legislatures is spreading across the United States, with casino/racetrack companies Churchill Downs, Inc. and Penn National Gaming already in on the action.  Individual investors are able to play this trend, as well as capitalize on wagering at established foreign sports books, by buying a brand-new exchange traded fund, or ETF, with the symbol BETZ.  The BETZ ETF endeavors to track the Roundhill Sports Betting & iGaming index and it is the first ETF with the theme of international online betting and sports wagering.

(An ETF owns a portfolio of stocks or bonds and trades on a stock exchange throughout the day just like an individual corporate stock.)

BETZ began trading on June 3, 2020, and was an immediate hit, especially with traders on the Robinhood app so popular with younger people.  By the close of its second day of trading, 8,600 Robinhood users had purchased BETZ, which was a 273% increase from the first day of trading. By June 12, BETZ had $70 million invested in it.

Following are the top ten BETZ holdings, and these account for about 55% of total holdings:

WeightNameTickerThematic RelevanceCountry
8.72%GAN LTDGANTechnologyBritain
6.95%DRAFTKINGS INCDKNGSportsbookUnited States
6.15%GVC HOLDINGS PLCGVC LNSportsbookIsle Of Man
4.33%SCIENTIFIC GAMES CORPSGMSTechnologyUnited States
4.13%OPAP SAOPAP GAiGamingGreece
4.04%CHURCHILL DOWNS INCCHDNSportsbookUnited States

This article is informational and is not a recommendation to buy BETZ. As with investing in any equity, BETZ is potentially risky owing to price fluctuations. Moreover, its newness means it has very little track record. The ETF’s expense ratio of 0.75% is also a consideration. Therefore, individuals should exercise due diligence before buying. 

(Full disclosure:  I do not currently have a position in BETZ and was not compensated in any way to write this article.)

Copyright © 2020 Horse Racing Business


In my many years following horse racing, I’ve always admired how refreshingly apolitical it is.  While there are occasionally small groups of anti-racing protestors at racetracks, their complaints don’t pertain to mainstream societal issues of the day. 

So far, horse racing has avoided the politically charged controversies and turmoil seen in many other sports.  Thankfully, racetracks, off-track betting facilities, and race telecasts still provide an oasis where people of diverse backgrounds and viewpoints can get away from the constant harangue of the outside world for several hours.

America’s most popular sport, The National Football League, used to be like that, but no more.  Regardless of one’s opinion on the subject of players and coaches kneeling or sitting during the presentation of colors and playing of the National Anthem, all can agree that the symbolic gesture is provocative and thus invites commercially negative consequences because a sizeable contingent of fans are sure to be upset.  Many who are offended will choose to not buy tickets or watch on television.  Already, organized NFL boycotts are underway on social media and radio programs are full of callers apparently fed up with the NFL.

It is never, ever a good idea for an organization competing in a competitive and often fickle marketplace to purposely run off customers.  Quite the opposite: Employees are trained to cultivate and cater to all-important existing and potential customers, a point evidently lost on many NFL players and a few coaches.

The NFL and a number of other sports have lost sight of the fact that a major draw of sporting events is that sports traditionally have provided fans with a respite from real-world problems, a fantasy retreat like going to Disney World or a concert.  Their raison d’ê·tre has always been entertainment and escapism.

Fortunately, at Saratoga, Del Mar, Royal Ascot, and other racetracks, the crowd is a marvelous admixture of fans from all walks of life and financial means, who seem to eschew political bickering.  The jockeys, at least in the United States, are largely Hispanic, similar to the demographic profile of players in Major League Baseball.  Moreover, betting on horses is merit-based in that the folks with the winning tickets collect and the losers don’t, irrespective of their economic status or personal characteristics. 

Keeping my fingers crossed that horse racing continues to be a refuge, where people can enjoy themselves without being condescendingly preached to against their wishes.

Copyright © 2020 Horse Racing Business