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Updated: 9 hours 2 min ago

Legal Challenges to Belmont Arena Tossed Out

Fri, 2020-05-15 15:42

Legal challenges filed last autumn by the Village of Floral Park to try and halt construction of a $1.3-billion hockey arena, hotel, and retail project adjacent to Belmont Park have been tossed out by a New York State Supreme Court judge.

The two state agencies that green-lighted the project–the Empire State Urban Development Corporation and the New York State Franchise Oversight Board–were defendants in the lawsuit.

The initial lawsuit cited an allegedly flawed bidding process and “secret master plan” for the arena’s development that was allegedly floated by the New York Racing Association (NYRA) nine months before the state issued an official request for proposal (RFP) for the project, although NYRA itself was not a defendant in the case.

Newsday reported that in court documents filed May 12, Justice Roy S. Mahon ruled the plaintiffs lacked “standing to sue for alleged improprieties in the RFP process” and that Floral Park had “not shown that it has suffered an injury in fact distinct from that of the general public.”

According to WSHU Public Radio, Floral Park Mayor Dominick Longobardi said in a statement he’s “disappointed” by the decision. It is unclear whether Floral Park and other civic plaintiffs plan to appeal.

Construction began last summer, but the project was put on hold in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Tampa Applying To Further Extend Meet

Fri, 2020-05-15 13:37

Officials at Tampa Bay Downs are seeking approval from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation to continue hold live racing into the month of June, a total of eight dates on Mondays and Wednesdays, in an effort to “bolster horsemen uncertain of their next step,” according to a release from the track.

Tampa Bay Downs is currently racing each Wednesday, Friday and Saturday through May 30. The meeting ends June 30, which is also the first day of the track’s ‘Summer Festival of Racing.’ The program on July 1 marks the official start of the 2020-2021 Thoroughbred meeting.

“The last two months have presented a challenge unlike any our sport has faced,” said Peter Berube, vice president and general manager of Tampa Bay Downs. “Our trainers, jockeys, backstretch workers and security personnel have met it head-on and continued to provide racing that has brought positive recognition to Tampa Bay Downs.

“We are proud of how everyone has responded and are hopeful the additional dates, if approved, will sustain the majority of our participants until they move to their summer and fall bases of operation,” Berube added.

Tampa Bay has raced without spectators since Mar. 18 and has done so with strict protocols in place, including limiting person-to-person contact by designating one person from each barn to interact with veterinarians and farriers (horse-shoers); decreasing the number of people allowed in a tack room or office at one time; practicing social distancing; wearing masks; cleaning and sanitizing water and feed buckets, tack, grooming supplies and other implements often throughout the day; and taking employees’ temperatures every day.

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Churchill Downs To Feature on ‘America’s Day at the Races’ on FOX

Fri, 2020-05-15 12:14

Live racing from Churchill Downs will be broadcast throughout the 2020 Spring Meet on FOX Sports’ ‘America’s Day at the Races’ on FS1 and FS2.

The program, produced by the New York Racing Association (NYRA) in conjunction with FOX, will present a total of 11 hours of live coverage on opening weekend. Racing can be found on FS2 Saturday, May 16 from 1-2:30 p.m. and again from 6-6:30 p.m. and on FS1 from 2:30-6 p.m. Sunday’s programming on FS2 will take place between 1 and 2 p.m. and from 6-6:30 p.m. with FS1 broadcasting from 2-6 p.m.

The acclaimed series is hosted by Greg Wolf and Laffit Pincay III, while joining the broadcast this weekend will be NYRA’s Andy Serling and Maggie Wolfendale, former jockey Gary Stevens and handicapper Jonathon Kinchen.

Churchill Downs is offering free Brisnet past performance data courtesy of Ford for each day of the 26-day meet.

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Penn Mile and Oaks Canceled

Thu, 2020-05-14 16:19

The GII $500,000 Penn Mile S. as well as the $200,000 Penn Oaks, $100,000 Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup and $100,000 7 Forty 3 S., all scheduled to take place at Penn National May 30, have been canceled, according to a press release distributed via Twitter by the Pennsylvania H.B.P.A. A quartet of Pennsylvania-bred stakes races originally slated for Penn Mile day will be rescheduled.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf previously announced a plan that calls for the state to reopen in stages, and in Pennsylvania’s case, red, yellow and green phases. He said that racetracks cannot resume racing until their geographic areas have been placed in the green category.

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Woodbine Gets Green Light to Race Without Spectators

Thu, 2020-05-14 15:18

Woodbine has been given approval to race without spectators as part of Stage 1 of the Ontario government’s framework to gradually reopen the Province. Stage 1 is scheduled to start May 19.

“This is great news for the sport of horse racing and the tens of thousands of people it employs throughout the Province,” said Jim Lawson, CEO, Woodbine Entertainment. “With this news, our plans to resume Standardbred racing at Mohawk Park on June 5 and Thoroughbred racing on June 6 at Woodbine remain on track. We appreciate the government’s recognition that we can operate spectator-free horse racing safely by following strict physical distancing protocols.

“I would also like to thank the entire horse racing community for their patience, understanding and commitment in following health guidelines during this time. In doing so, it has put the entire industry in the position to resume live horse racing in the coming weeks.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, harness racing at Mohawk Park was suspended March 19, while the opening of Woodbine’s Thoroughbred season, originally scheduled for April18, was postponed.

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NYRA Secures COVID-19 Antibody Testing for Employees and Backstretch Workers

Thu, 2020-05-14 14:15

The New York Racing Association, Inc. has partnered with Northwell Health to secure important COVID-19 antibody testing for NYRA employees and backstretch workers at Belmont Park.

“We would like to thank Northwell Health for their commitment to expanding the availability of antibody testing across New York and right here at Belmont Park,” said NYRA CEO and President Dave O’Rourke. “This broad testing program will provide additional insight allowing us to to more fully understand how COVID-19 has impacted our community. Going forward, this is a positive step in NYRA’s overall testing program as we work toward our goal of providing universal access to both diagnostic testing and antibody testing.”

The voluntary COVID-19 antibody testing, provided free by Northwell Health, will be available to all NYRA staff and backstretch workers at Belmont Park Saturday, May 16.

“We have been able to respond quickly and effectively throughout this public health crisis because of the strong collaboration between NYRA and NYTHA, as well as the tireless work of B.E.S.T, the Racetrack Chaplaincy and the Belmont Child Care Association,” O’Rourke added. “I would like to thank everyone involved in these efforts to keep our community safe.”

Northwell Health personnel will perform all testing and results will be communicated within two days. Those who have recently experienced COVID-19 symptoms are asked to stay home and contact their health care provider.

The test looks for the presence of antibodies, which are specific proteins made in response to infections. Antibodies can be found in the blood of people who are tested after infection and show that people have had an immune response to the infection.

Antibody test results are especially important for detecting previous infections with few or no symptoms. A positive test result reveals antibodies that likely resulted from a previous COVID-19 infection. Antibody testing does not reveal active infection.

Live racing on the NYRA circuit was suspended Mar. 19 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Belmont backstretch has remained operational for the 800 men and women, of which nearly 600 live on the backstretch, who tend to the essential daily care of the more than 1,500 Thoroughbreds currently stabled on the property.

Should NYRA be authorized to resume limited live racing operations, Belmont Park would be closed to spectators as well as all employees and staff except those required to be present under the rules of New York racing.

With these restrictions in place, the resumption of live racing would add just 60 NYRA employees and racing officials to the population of 800 essential backstretch workers at Belmont Park.

NYRA’s Preparedness and Response Plan Committee, comprised of key NYRA staff members as well as representatives from the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, the Backstretch Employee Service Team, and the New York Race Track Chaplaincy of America, has developed and implemented health and safety protocols aligning with the most updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and New York State Department of Health.

Protocols implemented at Belmont Park include, but are not limited to:

-Mandatory health screening and temperature check for all personnel seeking to access the property
-Policy and workplace adjustments to support strict social distancing
-Mandatory personal protective measures including required facial coverings
-Preventative quarantine protocols, testing and contact tracing

Throughout the pandemic, backstretch workers feeling symptoms of the coronavirus, or in need of other care, have been treated at the B.E.S.T Health Center located on the Belmont backstretch or at the Elmont Health Center, a Federally Qualified Health Center, located across from Gate 5 at 161 Hempstead Turnpike.

NYRA’s ongoing COVID-19 diagnostic testing program has been led by the Elmont Health Center in conjunction with B.E.S.T.

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Into Mischief Filly Debuts Victoriously at Gulfstream

Thu, 2020-05-14 13:59

2nd-Gulfstream, $40,000, Msw, 5-14, 2yo, f, 4 1/2f, :52.39, ft.
DAYOUTOFTHEOFFICE (f, 2, Into Mischief–Gottahaveadream, by Indian Charlie), one of a trio of horses sent off the joint-second favorite at odds of 3-1, won the break and was never headed en route to a 4 3/4-length debut success Thursday at Gulfstream Park. Quickly into stride from the three hole, the dark bay set the pace along the inside, tracked intently by fellow 3-1 chances Acting Lucky (Tapizar) and Rock With Robin (Vancouver {Aus}) deepest on the track. She shrugged off Acting Lucky at the entry to the short stretch and pulled clear to score handily. A weakening Rock With Robin interfered with a rallying favorite Go Jo Jo Go (Khozan) at the sixteenth pole, causing that one to fall, and was ultimately disqualified from fifth to last. The winner, produced by a half-sister to GISW Here Comes Ben (Street Cry {Ire}), is from the family of Grade I winners Albertus Maximus (Albert the Great) and Daredevil (More Than Ready). Gottahaveadream is the dam of a yearling filly by Carpe Diem and was most recently covered by Bolt d’Oro. Lifetime Record: 1-1-0-0, $24,000. Click for the Equibase.com chart or VIDEO, sponsored by Fasig-Tipton.
O-Blazing Meadows Farm & Siena Farm LLC; B-Siena Farms LLC (KY); T-Timothy E Hamm.

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New Preakness Date to be Announced During NBC Sports Special Saturday

Thu, 2020-05-14 11:28

Stronach Group Chairman and President Belinda Stronach and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan will announce the rescheduled date for the 145th GI Preakness S. on NBC Sports Saturday.

NBC Sports will present a special show on NBC at 5 p.m. ET this Saturday, May 16–the original date for the race–headlined by American Pharoah’s memorable Preakness S. win five years ago.

The one-hour special–The Middle Jewel: American Pharoah’s Run to the Triple Crown–will look back at American Pharoah’s dominating win in the 140th Preakness S. Just prior to post time in 2015, Pimlico Race Course was engulfed in torrential rain and thunder, resulting in a sloppy track. The conditions didn’t hinder American Pharoah, who ran to a seven-length victory in a Preakness which for the first time since 2009 featured the top three finishers in the Kentucky Derby–American Pharoah, Firing Line, and Dortmund.

NBCSN will simulcast TVG Trackside Live throughout the weekend, beginning at 4 p.m. ET on Friday, May 15 and 6 p.m. ET this Saturday and Sunday, May 16-17.

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Santa Anita Gets County Clearance, Will Re-Open May 15

Wed, 2020-05-13 19:09

Officials at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, CA, announced late Wednesday afternoon that the track has received approval from the Los Angeles County Health Department to resume safe live racing beginning this Friday, May 15, as part of Los Angeles County’s revision of its ‘Safer at Home’ guidelines. Racing will be conducted without spectators and with essential personnel following strict protocols to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

“We are very grateful for the open and continuous communication with both the Health Department and Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s office,” said Aidan Butler, Executive Director of California Racing Operations for The Stronach Group.  “Supervisor Barger, in particular, understood the importance of live racing to support thousands of individuals, and that we are able to accomplish it safely under these protocols.”

Protocols that will be in place include mandatory face masks and daily health screening including temperature checks and mandatory social distancing while on the property, increased sanitation procedures, the creation of a Restricted Zone, housing jockeys, valets and other essential personnel who must have a negative COVID test to access, and revised saddling and pre-race protocol to increase physical distancing.

Butler continued, “We also want to thank our stakeholders, including the Thoroughbred Owners of California, the California Thoroughbred Trainers, the Jockeys Guild, our Santa Anita Park team and our fans for their patience during this pandemic. This has been a difficult time for all. Now we are focused on getting back to work in a safe and secure manner.”

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Independence Hall, Scolding Put the Veritas in Verratti

Wed, 2020-05-13 17:15

Bob Verratti, who has done a little of everything in racing for the past four decades, decided to purchase a small group of pinhooking prospects at the 2018 yearling sales and, with the help of bloodstock agent Dennis O’Neill, the Pennsylvania businessman came away with a pair of home runs, albeit to opposite sides of the park. The first of the trio to go through the sales ring was a colt from the first crop of Constitution who Verratti bought back for $200,000 at last year’s Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream sale. The buy-back proved fortuitous when, named Independence Hall, the dark bay’s impressive debut win attracted high-power partners in Eclipse Thoroughbreds and Twin Creeks Racing and he dominated the 2019 GIII Nashua S. in just his second career start.

Verratti’s second offering at last year’s juvenile auctions was a daughter of Carpe Diem who turned heads with a quarter-mile work in :20 3/5 at the OBS Spring sale. Purchased for $75,000 as a yearling at the 2018 Keeneland September sale, the filly sold to Phoenix Thoroughbreds at OBS for $475,000. Now named Scolding, the filly was equally impressive in her racetrack debut, winning geared down by six lengths at Oaklawn Park May 2 (video) and earning the ‘TDN Rising Star’ label.

Verratti traces his love of racing right back to a specific day in the summer of 1967.

“I was in the Navy and I was stationed at the Knolls Atomic Naval Reactor Facility in West Milton, New York,” Verratti said. “I had one day off, so I went to this place called Saratoga. I went with $12 and I came home with $18, show bets all. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. I made $212 a month at the time, so that was pretty big money. I went back the next day with the $18 and I came back with nine. The good news for me was that was closing day.”

It would be nearly a decade later that Verratti became a racehorse owner.

“I bought my first racehorse, a $3,000 horse from Charles Town, West Virginia, as a partner with a friend of mine. So $1,500 was my first investment,” he said. “That was in 1977, if you can believe that.”

Asked if his initial $1,500 investment had panned out, Verratti admitted, “No. But I thoroughly enjoyed it and I started to read and study and took an interest in breeding and bloodlines even before I could act on it. Just as a curiosity for me and an intellectual exercise to see if there was a way to figure this all out. And I realized after all of that study, that yes, there are some things that you can give you a better probability of success, but it’s always better to be lucky than smart. That’s my conclusion after 40 years.”

By the 1980s, Verratti owned a handful of horses each year and raced mostly in California. He also bred a few fillies he had raced. He came closest to graded stakes success with Our Bobby V. (Majestarian), who was second in the 2003 GII Santa Catalina S. With family friends Kirk and Debbie Wycoff of Three Diamonds Farm, he even tried his hand at the pinhooking game.

“That was successful, it was very successful,” Verratti said of his initial pinhooking venture. “We put up a few bucks and we made a few bucks and it was fun and exciting. But mostly, I was too busy in my career to really follow up on any of it. I just kept watching it out of the corner of my eye, always seeing how pinhookers were doing and how racing was going. You can call me intensely passionate about the sport, but a small player in the business for that last 40 years or so.”

His investments in the sport benefitted from a chance encounter with Dennis O’Neill in 2008.

“Dennis bought a horse I bred at the Barretts [2008 May sale] for $12,000,” Verratti said. “I think it was one that he just decided to take a chance on. I didn’t know him, but I called him up and told him I had bred the horse and I shouldn’t have let him go for $12,000. I asked him if he would let me back in as a partner. He did whatever due diligence that he needed to do on me, and apparently he did it incorrectly because he accepted me. So we started out with a horse named Skim Scam (Skimming). He only won a couple of races, but it started a relationship with Dennis and that’s probably 20 years ago.”

When Verratti decided to purchase pinhook prospects in 2018, he turned to O’Neill, who had already picked future Kentucky Derby winners I’ll Have Another and Nyquist out of public auctions.

“Dennis has picked out horses for me, usually in partnerships, especially around Del Mar time, so we have something to run there,” Verratti explained. “I called him and I said, ‘Dennis, I want to buy some yearlings to pinhook.’ and he said, ‘Fine, I’m going. Let’s do it.’ So we did.”

Verratti went into the Keeneland September sale with a budget of $400,000 to $500,000 and expecting to buy up to four horses in the $75,000 to $150,000 range. Independence Hall and Scolding are both from the first crops of their sires and Verratti agreed that was part of his buying strategy.

“If you wanted to buy the Into Mischiefs and the other established sires, that was way, way out of my budget,” he explained. “So we were looking for a horse that we could take a shot with. If it didn’t work out, it would be OK and if it did, obviously, we could turn up with something that really worked well for everybody.”

In the name of his Charlestown Investments, Verratti purchased three yearlings at the September sale that year: Independence Hall for $100,000, Scolding for $75,000, and still-unraced Moonhak Mischief (Into Mischief) for $175,000.

“That was enough,” Verratti said of the trio. “Dennis did try to get me to buy two more. But I am an investor and a venture capitalist and I’ve run several companies in my life, so I can tell you this: no other business that I’ve been involved in punishes you for lack of discipline like the horse business does. So I said, ‘No, Dennis. I appreciate it. They look good, the price looks right, but I have a budget and I have to stop here.’ So who knows how many future graded stakes winners I left out there?”

The three yearlings were sent to Ocala for the winter.

“We sent them to Ciaran Dunne down at Wavertree,” Verratti said. “He has an excellent, excellent operation. And I will tell you this, while they were in training, in retrospect, he was spot on in his analysis of how he told me they were all progressing. He told me, ‘Bob, I don’t think the Into Mischief is going to turn out to be much. The Carpe Diem could surprise you.’ And Independence Hall, he said, ‘He’s getting so good every day, we’re going to enter him in the Gulfstream sale,’ which is a premium sale.”

Independence Hall did indeed make it to Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream Sale last spring, but, hampered by a shin issue, failed to find the buyers. Still, practicing his disciplined approach, Verratti almost let the talented youngster go.

“We had a reserve set at $180,000 and we got to $185,000,” Verratti recalled. “Dennis said, ‘Bob this horse is so much better than that. The shin is putting people off.’ He said, ‘You can’t go wrong if you race this horse, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.’ I had about eight seconds to think about it and the next thing I know, Dennis’s hand is in the air. I said, ‘Dennis, did you just buy yourself a horse?’ He said, ‘No, you have one.’ So we brought him home.”

Independence Hall swept to an impressive debut victory at Parx on the Pennsylvania Derby undercard last September for Verratti and wife Kathleen, but added in Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Twin Creeks Racing for what had originally been a planned allowance start at Laurel Park. A fluke turn of events turned into Verratti’s first graded stakes win as an owner when the colt romped to a 12 1/4-length victory in the GIII Nashua S. at Aqueduct.

“I must admit, being a risk taker, I wanted to go to a stakes race, but the better part of wisdom was to go to the allowance race,” Verratti explained. “So we had an allowance race at Laurel and Joel Rosario flew down to ride. But a water main broke on the main track and they cancelled racing the morning of the race. The only race available was the Nashua. We didn’t want him to sit in the barn, so we reluctantly ran him in the Nashua. He went off at 9-1 and of course that’s when he ran his triple-digit Beyer. And everybody thought we were geniuses. So there has been a lot of serendipity with him: the shin helped me out, then the water main break. I should have sent a case of champagne to the maintenance crew down at Laurel.”

It was an easier decision to let Scolding sell at OBS last April.

“Anytime you can buy a horse for $75,000 and sell it seven months later for $475,000, you’d have to catagorize that as a good result,” Verratti said. “But because I had kept the Constitution, I really did need to sell her. The Carpe Diem could have worked in :19 and something and I would have still sold her. I try to follow the discipline rule and I am very happy. It took her a year to get to the races, but boy does it look like it was worth it. I will be happy I sold her even if she goes on and wins the Kentucky Oaks, and God love her, I hope she does.”

Despite the success of his 2019 juveniles, Verratti wasn’t planning on another pinhooking venture this spring.

“I was really enmeshed in a couple of business transactions that took all of my time and I couldn’t make it to the sale,” Verratti said. “I trust Dennis implicitly, no doubt, he’s bought me lots of horses that I wasn’t present for. But we decided we were going to pass.”

Still, O’Neill found a way to keep the owner involved in the game.

“Dennis told me, ‘I have a horse you just have to buy.’ He had already purchased him, so we bought him. So I only have one 2-year-old.”

Fittingly the youngster, catalogued at the upcoming OBS Spring Sale as hip 820, is a colt from the first crop of Nyquist, the 2016 Kentucky Derby winner O’Neill picked out at the Fasig Gulfstream sale in 2015.

“It’s a first-year sire again and Dennis picked him out,” Verratti said. “How can you not take advice from someone like Dennis, especially when it comes to a Nyquist?”

Understandably, Verratti is undecided about his plans for the yearling sales coming up this fall.

“A lot of it depends on the dynamics,” he said. “I think everyone right now is on pause with their plans. This is not my livelihood or my life, it’s something that I very much enjoy. But there are others in the business, it’s critical that they try to figure out what is going on and plan accordingly. For me, I will be looking for targets of opportunity. But I need to see more about what is happening to racing. I think we all do.”

As for Independence Hall, he added a win in the Jerome S. and a runner-up effort in the GIII Sam F. David S. to his resume this year, but was a disappointing fifth when last seen in the Mar. 28 GI Florida Derby.

“He is back galloping,” Verratti said of the colt. “It’s a shame he had to throw in a bad race in the Florida Derby, but we are sorting that out. We will get it all sorted out and see what the calendar will show for us for the balance of the year. I think he’s a brilliant horse.”

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Oaklawn Owner Louis Cella Joins TDN Writers’ Room

Wed, 2020-05-13 17:14

On this week’s episode of the TDN Writers’ Room podcast presented by Keeneland, the writers were joined by Oaklawn Park owner and president Louis Cella to discuss the challenges and logistics of running a race meet in the coronavirus era. Oaklawn, along with Gulfstream and Tampa, have led the way for major tracks continuing operations uninterrupted through the pandemic, and Cella, as the Green Group Guest of the Week, talked about the advice they can impart as other ones start to reopen.

“Some of the details that we’ve shared with other tracks: we take the temperature of every single person every single day,” he said of a system that Churchill Downs has now also adopted for its backstretch. “That’s over 900 people from Mar. 15 on, and we have color-coded bands. So today is yellow, tomorrow might be green, and if you’re not wearing the right color, you step aside immediately. We have our trainers going into their barns temping also every single day. So it’s been truly a group effort and we’re very fortunate that we were able to pull this off, and I hope the other tracks will as well.”

Cella also talked about the difficulty of running a racetrack without casino revenues, something other tracks will have to contend with as they reopen before casinos are able to.

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“We cannot have the purses that we have at $600,000 a day if we do not have that casino alternative revenue source,” he said. “The spigot turned off on Mar. 15. So we reduced our purses by 35% in anticipation of trying to make the numbers work. Our horsemen agreed. Our commission agreed. And that’s why we were able to give away just a freckle under $30 million, which is extraordinary given the circumstances.”

Elsewhere on the show, in the West Point News of the Week, the crew debated the reasoning for and implications of The Jockey Club’s new 140-mare cap for stallions, looked forward to the return of racing to Kentucky and California, and called for more transparency in the reporting of workouts. Click here to listen to the podcast, and click here to watch it on Vimeo.

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Minimum Graded Stakes Purses Lowered for 2020

Wed, 2020-05-13 16:33

Officials on the American Graded Stakes Committee (AGCS) of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA) have announced that it will lower certain required minimum purses for graded stakes races for the balance of 2020. In arriving at their decision, the AGCS took into account that the stoppage of racing and the closure of casino operations in North America are negatively impacting purse accounts as well as the ability to fund graded stakes.

For the remainder of 2020, the threshold purse money for Grade I races is being lowered from $300,000 to $250,000; and for Grade II races from $200,000 to $150,000. Grade III races continue to be run for at least $100,000, while listed and grade-eligible events will be contested for a minimum of $75,000.

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Training Resumes at Churchill Downs

Wed, 2020-05-13 15:46

The Churchill Downs main track was opened for training Wednesday morning for the first time since last fall, with horses such as the Greg Foley-trained Major Fed (Fed Biz) and others conditioned by Steve Asmussen, Phil Bauer, Buff Bradley, Bret Calhoun, Mark Casse, Brad Cox, Neil Howard, Michelle Lovell and Dallas Stewart all stepping onto the surface just after 5:30 a.m. (video)

“It’s a relief to be home,” said Lovell, who shipped her horses from the Fair Grounds to Ashbrook Farm in Lexington and made the trip across Interstate 64 each morning for the past six weeks. Lovell resides not far from the Churchill backstretch and commented, “It was tough traveling back and forth every day to Lexington, but we got through it and can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

The former jockey has a pair of horses entered for Saturday’s opening-day program.

“It’s been tough on us all but we are so thankful racing is back at Churchill Downs,” Lovell said.

Horses from Louisiana began arriving at Churchill this past Monday and Florida-based runners were scheduled to arrive in Louisville Wednesday morning.

Training hours through Friday, May 15, will be from 5:30-9 a.m. with a single renovation break at 7 a.m. Beginning Saturday, May 16, training hours will be extended to 10 a.m., with renovation taking place at 7 and 8:30 a.m. Turf training will take place Sunday and Tuesday, weather permitting, and gate schooling will operate daily from 7:30-9:30 a.m. with the exception of Tuesdays.

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Oaklawn Outlines Protocol for Casino Opening May 18

Wed, 2020-05-13 12:17

Oaklawn Park, which is scheduled to reopen its casino May 18 at 9:00 a.m., outlined the guidelines which will be implemented to facilitate the reopening process. The casino has been closed since Mar. 16 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are fully prepared to meet or exceed all recommended health and hygiene protocols,” said General Manager Wayne Smith. “While we understand this timing might not be right for some people, just know we will be ready and safe for you when you are. The health and safety of our guests and team members are of the utmost importance. Of particular interest, on May 2 we concluded a successful race meet, albeit without fans, where we proved that by following strict protocols we could keep our horsemen and staff safe.”

In accordance with the guidelines set forth by the Arkansas Department of Health, Oaklawn has submitted a plan to operate the casino and F&B outlets. The plan includes:

  • Adjusted casino hours – 9 a.m. to 3 a.m., Sun-Thu and 9 a.m. to 5 a.m., Fri-Sat
  • The casino will operate at 33% of facility capacity
  • There will only be one entrance for guests, which will be the main/front casino entrance
  • All guests and team members will be required to have non-invasive temperature checks as they enter the facility Anyone presenting a temp at/over 100 degrees Fahrenheit will not be permitted inside the building
  • Guests will be asked to show ID upon entering should contact tracing be required
  • Guests and Team members will be required to wear masks at all times
  • Shuttle service will continue with limitations on number of guests per shuttle
  • Guests will be limited to every other slot machine to ensure social distancing
  • Live blackjack games limited to every other seat and no more than three players per table
  • Live craps limited to three players per side of each table
  • Live roulette will not be opened at this time
  • Smoking will not be allowed anywhere inside the facility, including the casino

Additionally, Oaklawn outlined its health guidelines for cleaning and sanitizing protocols:

  • The facility has undergone a series of deep cleaning in all areas and the frequency of cleaning all public areas during the day will be increased
  • The casino will be electrostatically disinfected nightly when we are closed
  • Oaklawn has added additional hand sanitizing stations in all public and office areas
  • Prominently displayed signage regarding social distancing, health and hygiene for guests and team members throughout the property, porte cochere, shuttles and waiting areas
  • All team members will receive training on Covid-19 safety and sanitation protocols

The Race & Sports Book (room and kiosks) will remain closed for the time being. Simulcast racing, marketing promotions, events, tournaments, or entertainment (live bands) had been curtailed until further notice. Schedules for dining venues at Oaklawn have been amended for the upcoming opening. For more information, visit www.oaklawn.com.

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L.A. County to Extend Stay-At-Home Order Until July; Santa Anita ‘Optimistic’

Tue, 2020-05-12 16:44

With Los Angeles County’s stay-at-home order expected to be extended until July, officials at Santa Anita said that they still remain optimistic about opening this Friday with strict protocols in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“We remain optimistic about running on Friday,” said Mike Willman, the director of publicity at Santa Anita. Track officials said that that would be the only statement the track would offer Tuesday.

L.A. County’s Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said that the order would “with all certainty” be extended for the next three months during a Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, according to the Los Angeles Times, which reported that the timeline would only change if there were a “dramatic change to the virus and tools at hand.”

Beaches in L.A. County are set to re-open Wednesday, but users will be required to wear masks when not in the water. Sunbathing will not be allowed and only “active recreation” like swimming, jogging, and surfing will be allowed.

Monday, Santa Anita sent a text to horsemen telling them to be prepared to enter their horses Tuesday for a spectator-free race card Friday, the day the “Safer at Home” order was expected to expire. The county did not specifically grant its permission to Santa Anita to race. The track has been closed for racing since Mar. 27.

Later in the day, at around 5 p.m. Pacific time, Barger’s office released a statement that seemed to contradict what she had said during the meeting.

“During today’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Dr. Barbara Ferrer indicated the Country’s health officer order would be in place over the next few months. Unfortunately, this statement was taken out of context and has understandably caused great concern by the public. Relaxing the restrictions in the `Safer at Home’ order is an important focus for the County, which will be done gradually over the next few months.”

Barger said that she was eager to “reopen more of L.A. County as soon as it’s safe to do so, in collaboration with our health experts, community leaders, businesses and residents, with best practices in place in order to ensure our overall health and well-being.”

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Indiana Grand Targets June 15 Opening

Tue, 2020-05-12 15:12

Indiana Grand Racing & Casino, pending approval from the Indiana Horse Racing Commission, has proposed opening its 90-day season Monday, June 15 and close as previously scheduled Nov. 18. In a departure from the previously approved schedule, Indiana Grand will now race on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, with a first race post time of 2:20 p.m. ET.

“The longer our season was delayed the more clear it became that we needed to rethink the goals of the meet,” said Eric Halstrom, Vice President and General Manager of Racing. “We feel strongly that a move to racing on Monday through Thursday, with quality fields and an attractive wagering menu will best serve our horsemen and customers all over the nation during an uncertain time. A new condition book and stakes schedule will be published shortly while we adapt to these extraordinary circumstances.”

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Woodbine Seeks June 6 or 13 Start; Overnight Purses Won’t Take a Hit in 2020

Tue, 2020-05-12 15:01

Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) is planning to seek approval for a June 6 or 13 start for its pandemic-delayed Thoroughbred race meet, and the firm’s chief executive officer, Jim Lawson, said in a public video chat Tuesday that he does not expect overnight purses to be adversely affected this year despite mounting losses from the closure of WEG’s gaming facilities.

Woodbine will also seek to move its signature stakes race, the Queen’s Plate, from June 27 to a September date that has yet to be determined.

Lawson said one near-term upshot with horse racing restarting earlier than other team sports is that Woodbine is working on a deal to get both its Thoroughbred and harness races broadcast in prime time on TSN, which is Canada’s national sports television channel.

And although Woodbine has proposed COVID-19 protocols to its provincial regulators that are more stringent than what some United States racetracks are doing right now–like requiring jockeys to wear masks all the way into the starting gate until the race goes off–Lawson said licensed personnel at Woodbine will not be mandated to be tested for the coronavirus as a condition of entering the grounds.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association published best-practice guidelines for racing during the pandemic May 7 that do not recommend widespread virus testing. But several U.S. tracks, such as Churchill Downs and Keeneland, willl require it.

“We’re not in a position right now to be doing testing of people on the backstretch. It’s not something that we have the expertise to do,” Lawson said.

“The short answer right now is people need to self-isolate [for 14 days] if they’ve come from another jurisdiction,” Lawson said, noting that horses are free to ship in without restriction if they are cared for by licensees who are either already on the grounds or have completed that quarantine.

“Self-isolation is not our decision. That’s the government’s decision,” Lawson said. “We’ll see where we get to on testing. I think we are at some point hopefully going to be in a position to test people, especially if they’ve had to self-quarantine or self-isolate because there’s been virus in their family, for example….Hopefully we’ll all get to the point where there is testing available so those people can re-enter the workforce.”

Jockeys will be allowed to enter the grounds to exercise horses starting Wednesday, Lawson said, and the starting gate will be available for schooling that morning. Timed workouts can begin  Friday, and Woodbine’s training track is expected to open May 22 to accommodate a rising horse population.

Whichever of those Saturday dates that the Thoroughbred meet opens–June 6 or 13–the Standardbred season will resume the night before, on a Friday. Both breeds customarily race at different post times at Woodbine on separate surfaces.

The initial week of afternoon Thoroughbred racing will just be a Saturday and Sunday, then Woodbine plans to go to a three-day week and, eventually, four days per week.

A new wrinkle could be the swapping out of Wednesday evening racing for an afternoon Thursday post time. That’s partially because of the pending TV deal and partially because Woodbine won’t be allowed to race with spectators present out of respect to social distancing mandates.

“We’ve been engaged in discussions with TSN in moving into prime time on either Thursday or Friday nights with a horse racing show, and the idea is that we would like to have both breeds that race on either a Thursday or a Friday night,” Lawson said. “That would mean a potentially 4 p.m. start time for the Thoroughbreds…. I think it would be a mistake not to take advantage of it.

“Wednesdays have always been a big food and beverage night for us [because] people like going to dinner at Woodbine,” Lawson continued. “[But] we won’t be able to offer any food and beverage, so our hope and plan is to run on Thursday [afternoons]. It’s better for [betting] business.”

Access to non-essential racing personnel could open up on a “limited basis” over summer, Lawson explained. But he added that “our planning right now is, at least through September, that we’re not [going to be allowing] spectators.”

Lawson said that horse owners do not meet the current standard for “essential” personnel.

“That question’s come up a few times, and understandably so,” Lawson said. “The owners pay the bills and have the investment. I’ve talked to many, many owners [but I hope they understand that] we need to keep [population] numbers down on the backstretch. We need to keep people safe, and I can’t underline that enough. We all want racing to start, and the more we can control the people and control physical distancing and have less people back there, the better off we’re all going to be.

“If we have problems with illness in the jockey colony…and on the starting gate crew, we’ve got an issue in terms of how to manage this,” Lawson said. “We’re being extremely careful with our jockeys, and we cannot proceed with racing if we were to have an outbreak of the virus within our colony.”

Moving the Queen’s Plate to September opens up the chance that at least owners would be allowed to attend what Woodbine bills as “the oldest continuously run race” in North America.

“Part of our thinking is there’s a better chance for spectators in September,” Lawson said. “In any event, we feel like we need a couple of months of prep races to get horses ready to go 1 1/4 miles.”

Just like officials at Keeneland told TDN last week, part of the rescheduling dance for major stakes involves not stepping on the toes of other tracks.

“It’s a little different now with dates shifting. We have to make sure that we’re not bumping squarely into what other racetracks are doing,” Lawson said. “We’re just making sure that we don’t make a mistake and land on a date without all the other considerations. And as other racetracks are going through the same process, we need to coordinate…. I don’t think it would be the right thing, for example, to run the Queen’s Plate on the same day as the [Sep. 5 GI] Kentucky Derby.”

The Queen’s Plate is restricted to Canadian-bred 3-year-olds, but other graded stakes deeper into Woodbine’s season typically attract international shippers. Lawson said it’s far too early to tell what type of government restrictions will be in place at that time.

“Maybe by the time of [the autumn stakes races] the rules will be eased in terms of cross-border traffic,” Lawson said. “But right now it would  be a problem for horses shipping in. They’d have to ship in on their own [and be taken care of by someone already at Woodbine].”

Lawson said that there is no plan to make up lost dates from this spring by extending the Thoroughbred meet past its traditional mid-December closing.

But, he added, overnight purse levels are expected to remain unchanged for the balance of 2020.

“There’s no expectation that purses will be impacted this year. [Based on existing agreements with horsemen and regulators], we’re locked. Purses are no longer tied to wagering and casino income.

“What concerns me, and I’ll be quite frank about it, is certainly [WEG’s own] revenue,” Lawson said. “We are going to be down substantial amounts of revenue as a result of the casino shutdown…. I want to keep optimistic in terms of this conversation today, but it’s certainly a concern for the future, and that’s why we’ve been looking at historical horse racing…to see if there are ways we can generate additional income in the future, because we’re going to feel this hit for awhile. Even if the casinos get started this summer or this fall, I think we all can appreciate it’s going to take a long time for them to ramp up.

“Of course the races that have been canceled, those purses, effectively we’re looking at this on a pro rata basis going forward,” Lawson continued. “Particularly on the Thoroughbred side, we’re going to have to look at the stakes program more closely in terms of [what to do with purses if those races don’t get run]. But overnight purses, we plan on keeping them the same, and there will be some adjustment on the stakes side, just balancing out the stakes purses.”

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Monomoy Girl Headlines 162 Entries for Churchill Opening Day

Tue, 2020-05-12 14:52

A total of 162 horses, headlined by returning champion Monomoy Girl (Tapizar), were entered Tuesday for Saturday’s opening day card at the Churchill Downs spring meeting. Off since winning the 2018 GI Breeders’ Cup Distaff, Monomoy Girl returns in the fourth race, a conditioned allowance event at one-mile on the main track with a purse of $85,000.

“It’s been a long time coming but we are thrilled for [Monomoy Girl] to return to the races,” said trainer Brad Cox. “She’s been working great down at Keeneland since late March and we’re looking forward to this first step back.”

First post at Churchill Downs Saturday is 1 p.m. ET and race four is expected to go off at 2:32 p.m. The 11-race card will feature an average field size of 11.3 horses.

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NYRA Hoping Comprehensive Set of Protocols Will Expedite Reopening

Tue, 2020-05-12 14:09

While still awaiting word from Gov. Andrew Cuomo regarding when it can resume racing, NYRA has submitted a comprehensive plan to the state and the New York Gaming Commission outlining the steps it is taking to maintain a safe environment for those who must be on hand to conduct racing.

The timetable for a resumption of racing at Belmont Park may also hinge on a region-by-region approach to opening the state announced by Cuomo Monday. The Governor’s office has divided the state into 10 regions and said each one can start to reopen when they have met seven health-related metrics Three regions have met the criteria and can start to reopen Friday. There will be four phases of the reopening.

No state has been hit harder by COVID-19 than New York. As of May 11, New York has had 26,656 deaths from the coronavirus, almost triple the next closest state.

Belmont Park is part of the Long Island region, which has met five of the seven metrics. Saratoga is part of the Capital region, which has also met five of the requirements.

While it is not clear if Long Island must meet all seven metrics before Belmont can reopen, doing so would no doubt make a resumption of racing there an easier sell. There has been no racing in New York since Mar. 15, when a card was completed at Aqueduct.

“Everyone in Albany is focused on meeting the regional needs first and industry needs second,” said New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association President Joe Appelbaum.

Eager to resume racing, albeit without fans, NYRA submitted a 19-page document that details all the steps it will take when given the approval to begin running again. Since Belmont has been open for training throughout the pandemic, many of the provisions are already in place.

“NYRA’s plan is the gold standard when it comes to what tracks are doing,” Appelbaum said,

In an outline of the 19-page document provided by NYRA Director of Communications Pat McKenna, it is estimated that only 60 people who are not part of the workforce in place for morning training would be needed to conduct racing. The only employees and staff allowed will be those required to be present under the rules of New York racing.

For daily training operations, the following protocols are already in place:

(*)-The backstretch is closed to all non-essential personnel.

(*)-Those entering the backstretch are subject to temperature checks and standard health questions at entrance gates.

(*)–NYRA is following all New York State Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidance regarding social distancing. Facial coverings are mandatory for anyone on the property.

(*)-NYRA and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association have worked together to purchase surgical masks, gloves and face shields and other equipment and have been distributing these supplies to all who need them as necessary.

McKenna said that NYRA “is working aggressively to introduce widely available antibody and diagnostic tests,” which would likely be in place before racing resumes. Similar tests are already being performed at Keeneland and Churchill Downs. Appelbaum was confident that testing will soon be available at the NYRA tracks and that implementing a testing program will hasten the reopening of New York racing.

“Testing is a critical component in the tool kit,” he said. “I don’t think any track will be open without an appropriate testing program, so I’m pretty certain we will have one here.”

The NYRA racing community has had the misfortune of having a small coronavirus outbreak on the backstretch, one that led to the death of 63-year-old groom Martin Zapata. For that reason, NYRA management and the horsemen are already well versed in how to deal with the daily problems posed by the coronavirus.

Anyone showing symptoms is promptly tested, either on the backstretch or at a nearby family health center. Belmont Park residents who test positive are placed in isolation in a dedicated quarantine dormitory suitable for these purposes and NYRA personnel conducts a contact tracing program to test those who came in contact with the infected individual. Individuals are released from quarantine only after they have completed at least 14-days and subsequently tested negative for COVID-19.

“Our experience handling outbreaks on the backstretch is critical,” Appelbaum said. “We have been doing testing, tracing and preventative quarantine for eight weeks already. You see the results. We are not unscarred on the backstretch but when you compare us to others situations, like nursing homes or cruise ships, other dorm-like environments, I think our results, knock on wood, have been pretty strong.  We are hoping to leverage that so that people understand we can create a safe environment to race under.”

Cuomo has said that he welcomes the return of sports in New York and has encouraged operators to develop business models that cover health concerns and the economic viability of reopening. NYRA has done just that. The only thing missing is the government’s blessing to begin racing.

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Churchill Downs Extends Road to the KY Derby

Tue, 2020-05-12 12:10

Churchill Downs Racetrack released a preliminary list of races Tuesday that could be used for the extension of the “Road to the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve,” pending agreeable race placement by the host tracks.

The first race in the extended series, the $150,000 GIII Matt Winn S. May 23 at Churchill Downs, will have top four points raised from the previously announced 10-4-2-1to 50-20-10-5.

“Based on measured interest from horsemen and limited racing opportunities for 3-year-olds across the country, the Matt Winn at the home of the Kentucky Derby appears to be the lonerace in May on the national calendar for horsemen to use as a prep to possible important stakes engagements in mid-to-late June,” said Mike Ziegler, Churchill Downs Incorporated’s Executive Director of Racing. “For that reason, we’re pleased to be able tofill the void and raise the significance of the Matt Winn.”

The other two legs of the Triple Crown, the GI Preakness S. and GI Belmont S., have yet to be rescheduled, but if they are run prior to the rescheduled GI Kentucky Derby Sept. 5, the top four finishers will receive the following points 150-60-30-15.

“We’re in the midst of an unprecedented year, and this year’s Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown will be one of the most memorable of our lifetimes,” Ziegler said. “There are a lot of moving parts and there are still a lot of unanswered questions, including who will be running and when. We’ve had great conversations with our partner racetracks and believe we’ve identified the best extension to a most unique Road to the Kentucky Derby. This will continue to evolve, including date placement, as host tracks firm up their plans.”

The following races, separated by region, have been added to the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Once the New York Racing Association finalizes their stakes schedules, eligible races could be added to the series:

– East: GI Haskell (100-40-20-10) and Pegasus (20-8-4-2) at Monmouth Park.

– Midwest: Matt Winn (50-20-10-5); GIII Indiana Derby (20-8-4-2); GII Blue Grass (100-40-20-10); and Ellis Park Derby (50-20-10-5).

– West: GI Santa Anita Derby (100-40-20-10); GIII Los Alamitos Derby (20-8-4-2); and Del Mar’s Shared Belief (50-20-10-5).

Because this is an unprecedented and fluid situation, all races are subject to change and events could be added or removed. Additionally, the point values for each race will be subject to readjustment based on their proximity to all Triple Crown races.

Adjustments also will be made to the European Road to the Kentucky Derby and Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby in the coming weeks.

Additionally, the following races, separated by region, have been added to the Road to the Kentucky Oaks:

– East: GIII Delaware Oaks (50-20-10-5) and GIII Monmouth Oaks (50-20-10-5).

– Midwest: GIII Dogwood (20-8-4-2); GIII Indiana Oaks (20-8-4-2); GI Ashland (100-40-20-10); and GIII Beaumont (20-8-4-2).

– West:GII Santa Anita Oaks (100-40-20-10).

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