It is pretty safe to say as of now, there has been no firm decision on whether Saratoga and Del Mar will be able to run their high profile “elite” summer meets in 2020. Covid-19 has thrust itself into those decisions uninvited.
Rumors are flying around. It is safe to say the majority of racing decisions will be made independently of one another. Remember we are the industry that cannot seem to even stagger the post times of our big races on a Saturday. Look at what Churchill Downs did. They postponed the Kentucky Derby until Labor Day weekend without consulting Preakness or Belmont Stakes officials. The move made sense for them, but not necessarily for anyone else. They went far enough out to try and avoid the Covid-19 issues. They picked a holiday weekend when people are off and open to travel. Additionally, let’s face it, it is the Kentucky Derby, the horses will show up regardless of who else is running what race that day or the days prior or subsequent to. That said, Covid-19 may have the last laugh on that plan.
We know Churchill Downs wants to run the Kentucky Derby with as many fans as possible crammed into the facility. Prices are high, and it is an important annual revenue source for them. I am not sure however that crowded venues will be all that popular as soon as September. If they wind up running without fans they likely made a mistake. I believe if it goes that way, they should have run on the first Saturday in May, offered a free $2 bet or something to every new Twin Spires account that was opened, and bring some new fans to the game. Nobody asked me though.
A Del Mar official stated earlier today a live meet was doubtful this summer. It seems they are thinking about a meet with no fans, or possibly a complete cancellation a la Keeneland and their spring meet. They do plan to open the stable area for at least training. If I had to bet, and I am glad I don’t, I would bet they try it without fans. The horsemen want to run, and financially many need to run, and they will voice that as much as they can. We see tracks like Fonner, Gulfstream, Tampa, and Oaklawn running with no fans, and it seems to be working. The town may take a hit, but the racing not so much if they run ghost style.
Saratoga has not decided yet, as least not publicly. That town depends on that meet big time. If they don’t run they will take a huge hit and they will pressure NRA and the state to run as much as they can. NYRA doesn’t want to lose that meet, by far their biggest. They will also be opening the stable area for training albeit late. I have heard they are floating the idea of running with a limited number of fans at premium prices. Obviously they also must be looking at running ghost style or not even running.
With both tracks having their barn areas open and likely full, the favorite is they run sans fans.
These decisions are going to have to be made soon, perhaps sooner than really practical considering Covid-19 is in its infancy, and we don’t and won’t truly know all we should in time to make those decisions intelligently and safely.