By Richard Rosenblatt
Live racing in the United States continues to dwindle with the closing of a few more racetracks in California.
The latest tracks to cancel live racing after county health officials instructed them to do so are Golden Gate Fields (thoroughbreds, Alameda County), and Cal Expo (harness racing, Sacramento County).
Earlier this week, the Los Angeles county health department reiterated that live racing at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California, was not considered an essential business and closed down racing last weekend. The decision means the Santa Anita Derby (G1), a key Kentucky Derby (G1) prep race scheduled to be run on Saturday, is postponed.
Live racing was halted at the two California tracks as officials said they were following instructions from local and state officials regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Golden Gate Fields, like Santa Anita, is owned by The Stronach Group. Live racing at TSG-owned tracks continues at Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs in Florida, as well as Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and several other smaller tracks.
Cal Expo was the lone pari-mutuel harness track in the U.S. offering live racing, according to the United States Trotting Association.
“Golden Gate Fields is abiding by the instructions issued two weeks ago by the California Horse Racing Board to operate under the sanction of the local health authorities,’’ read a statement issued by the track. “At Golden Gate Fields, the health, safety and welfare of every person and every horse in our community is our top priority. At this time, there are no known cases of COVID-19 at Golden Gate Fields. This measure is being taken in response to a mandate from Alameda County officials.”
Live racing had been conducted without spectators since March 12.
Peter Beilenson, Sacramento County’s health director, said he notified Cal Expo officials to stop live racing less than two hours before Wednesday’s program.
“The drivers are within a couple of feet of each other and obviously could be breathing on each other,” he told the Sacramento Bee, adding track employees will be allowed to remain at the facility to care for the 300 horses at Cal Expo “as long as they practice the correct distancing.”
Other tracks that halted live racing before the end of the meet include Aqueduct in New York, Turfway Park in Kentucky, Laurel Park in Maryland, and the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Other meets, including Keeneland’s spring meet, have been canceled, or postponed indefinitely. Today, April 2, was supposed to be opening day at Keeneland.
In Canada, the $1 million Queen’s Plate (G1) at Woodbine on April 18, has been postponed, with hopes of running the country’s most prestigious race later in the year.
Meanwhile, live racing that is taking place will be televised this weekend by FOX Sports, available via FS1/FS2, featuring races from Oaklawn Park and Tampa Bay Downs.
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.