John Clay: Kentucky horse racing manager: ‘I’m frustrated with the governor’

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Late last week, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said he had talked with Churchill Downs officials, who had presented “detailed proposals” about how to begin the racetrack’s delayed spring meet.

“We’re trying to figure out the how and when that it will be safe,” Beshear said.

Meanwhile, the waiting continues. On what would have been Kentucky Derby week for the “Run for the Roses” on the first Saturday in May — rescheduled for the first Saturday in September because of the coronavirus pandemic — the industry is wondering when live racing will return.

“I’m very frustrated with the way our governor has handled this situation in Kentucky,” Liz Crow, a prominent bloodstock agent and racing manager, said Tuesday during an NTRA conference call. “I think we safely could have returned to racing a few weeks ago.”

There hasn’t been live racing in the state since March 25 when owner Churchill Downs halted Turfway Park’s spectator-less cards. Meanwhile, live racing is being held in Arkansas, Florida, Nebraska and Oklahoma without spectators.

“Kentucky hasn’t had a high number of deaths and a high number of cases, thank God,” said Crow. “But everyone is going up to the backside every morning to take care of these horses anyway. We’d only have to add a few additional people to make racing happen without spectators.”

Santa Anita Park suspended racing March 27 on advice from the Los Angeles County Health Department. The suspension caused a number of California 3-year-olds to ship to Oaklawn Park for this Saturday’s Arkansas Derby. With 22 entrants, the Grade 1 race will be run in two divisions with each vying for Kentucky Derby qualifying points.

Louisville native Jack Wolf, head of Starlight Racing which has Charlatan in the Arkansas Derby, said he believes Churchill and Santa Anita should be racing.

“We’ve got all the backside workers there at Santa Anita and Oaklawn and there weren’t any occurrences,” Wolf said. “These horses have got to keep training and hopefully have races. Of course, I’m biased and have self-interest involved, but I hope we can.”

Keeneland canceled its spring meet. Churchill Downs has twice delayed opening its stable area, first from April 14 to April 28, then to at least May 5. Uncertainty has forced owners and trainers to make travel and schedule changes.

British Idiom, winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, will race in the Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn on Friday. Had Keeneland not canceled racing, however, trainer Brad Cox would have the filly in Lexington.

“This wasn’t our plan to run in the Fantasy,” said Crow, who purchased the filly for its ownership group. “We were hoping to run in the Ashland (Stakes) in what would have been the first weekend in April.”

British Idiom needed a place to race, however, which has been a problem for all trainers. Take for instance Storm the Court, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, who will run in the Arkansas Derby after the Santa Anita Derby was scratched.

“You just don’t want to keep training and training,” said Peter Eurton, who trains Storm the Court. “It’s like being at a bus stop waiting for it to show up … . You’d hate for the horses to get injured by overdoing it.”

Same for Monomoy Girl, 2018 Eclipse Award winner for 3-year-old filly. She has not raced since winning the Breeders’ Cup Distaff on Nov. 3, 2018, but has put in three straight bullet works at Keeneland.

“It’s hard when you have horses ready to run and don’t have a game plan of where to run them,” said Crow, who was the purchasing agent for the Kentucky Oaks winner. “Monomoy Girl is ready to run off a year-and-a-half layoff and there’s nowhere to run her with not knowing when Churchill is going to open.”

All involved hope that changes.

“I think it’s hurting a lot of horsemen unnecessarily,” Crow said. “I don’t want to sound like (the pandemic) isn’t a big deal, but I do think we could race safely without spectators and I really hope to see us back up and running here soon.”


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