Spring can mean a lot of different things depending on where you are in the country, but for Kentucky, it means horse racing. Unfortunately, this year is playing out a little differently thanks to concerns over COVID-19.
Keeneland decided to cancel its spring meet on Monday. The 146th running of The Kentucky Derby has been delayed until the fall. The run for the roses will now be on the first Saturday in September, rather than May.
The Kentucky Derby does not only consist of the race but rather two weeks of events that generate $400 million for the Louisville economy. CDI’s CEO Bill Carstanjen officially announced the news on Tuesday:
“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. As the situation evolved, we reached the difficult conclusion that we needed to reschedule. At no point did we ever consider canceling the Kentucky Derby.”
Luckily, Kentucky and the city of Louisville are hoping to salvage what is the most important financial event for the state.
“You don’t survive 145 years without being resilient”. The plan is to keep the triple crown intact, moving back both the Preakness and the Belmont back to late September/early October,” said President of Churchill Downs Kevin Flanery.
Keeneland spring meet canceled
Keeneland, Lexington’s premier racetrack, meets for only three weeks in the spring and three weeks in the fall. Rescheduling the spring meet wasn’t an option, which led them to look at other solutions to recover the event. On Monday, the organization decided to cancel the event in response to the CDC guidelines.
Discussing this event with Vice President and COO of Keeneland Vince Gabbert illustrated the bind that they were in. He stated that is was an “agonizing decision” for them. They were pondering many other possibilities and watching what other sporting events were being canceled around the country. After the CDC guidelines were released banning gatherings of over 50 people, it killed the chances of even meeting without patrons. The workers it takes to take care of these horses would exceed that number.
Just how big are Keeneland meets? Last spring, the 16-day meet had a total attendance of 242,547, which doesn’t include the number of people who decide to spend their day tailgating on the grounds. Crowds on the weekends exceeded 34,000 people. All sources wagering on the event generated over $150 million in bets, with average purses for these horses worth over $700,000. This not only makes it a key event for horse racing fans but also the best trainers and jockeys from around the world.
Just like everything else, horse racing has to wait it out
Gene McLean is a former sportswriter and president of The Pressbox. He discussed the pipeline effect that the horse racing industry depends upon, needing movement of all parts for events to operate and succeed. Horses need people. When that pipeline is clogged, things come to a halt.
Horses target Keeneland because of the prestigious racing it provides. Accordingly, they plan to live there for several weeks. McLean brought up the issue, “Where are these horses going to go?”
He mentioned several tracks, including The Fair Grounds in New Orleans, that are keeping their stables open to help out during this tough time.
Just like every other public industry in the country, horse racing is planning and expecting a return. McLean is still looking forward to opening the Louisville Thoroughbred Society this summer.
“While losing the Keeneland Spring meet is disappointing, it is limited to one month, so I don’t see that having a negative impact on the industry,” CEO of Horse Racing Nation Mark Midland added.
The leaders of thoroughbred racing are looking ahead. It won’t be the normal spring in Kentucky. Nonetheless, the horse racing industry will live on and the streaming pipeline will once again flow in the Bluegrass State.