By Richard Rosenblatt
Thoroughbred racing is picking up the pace in the United States, with Churchill Downs releasing its shortened spring meet schedule Monday highlighted by a pair of Breeders’ Cup qualifiers and a points-qualifier for the Kentucky Derby.
The stable areas open May 11, and racing without spectators starts May 16 and runs through June 27 for a total of 26 race days.
The $100,000 Matt Winn Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds on May 23 has been designated a Derby qualifier with 10-4-2-1 points going to the first four finishers.
The Derby, postponed from its traditional first Saturday in May date due to the coronavirus pandemic, is now scheduled for Sept. 5.
On closing day, June 27, the card will feature the $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (G2) for 4-year-olds and up and the $200,000 Fleur de Lis (G2) for fillies and mares 4 and up, both at 1 1/8 miles.
The Stephen Foster winner gains an automatic spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) and the Fleur de Lis winner earns a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1).
The Breeders’ Cup is still scheduled for Nov. 6-7 at Keeneland.
A total of 16 stakes races with purses totaling $2,250,000 is on the Churchill Downs schedule, with 125 races overall worth $7,265,000 in prize money.
The release of the schedule on Monday comes after Churchill Downs received permission from Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear on April 29 that it could resume live racing, but with no spectators and under strict guidelines.
Only authorized track employees and Kentucky Horse Racing Commission license holders who are providing support for a horse stabled at the facility will be allowed on the premises.
This includes trainers with horses stabled or racing on the grounds and those who care for the horses such as veterinarians, grooms, exercise riders, and farriers.
Also, Monmouth Park in Oceanport, New Jersey, announced its live racing schedule for its delayed opening on July 3, with the $1 million Haskell Invitational (G1) for 3-year-olds set for its original date of July 18.
The track also placed several other stakes races on Haskell day, including the United Nations Stakes (G1). Several Grade 3 races are listed as well, including the Monmouth Cup, the Molly Pitcher Stakes, and the Matchmaker Stakes.
Monmouth Park’s opening date of May 2 was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and is set to resume without spectators. Plans are for the meet to run through Sept. 27 on a Friday-Sunday schedule.
Many tracks around the country are getting set to open for live racing now that states are beginning to loosen its stay-at-home restrictions to combat the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 69,000 people in the U.S.
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Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.