Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has authorized the return of spectatorless racing as part of the first phase of business openings in the state that begins May 11. During his regular afternoon press conference April 29, Beshear said horses could begin stabling on the backstretch at Churchill Downs on that date.
With Kentucky under a state of emergency since early March because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Beshear has maintained that strict compliance with state guidelines is necessary to save lives. Nonessential businesses are shuttered and mass gatherings are prohibited, among other restrictions, but Beshear has begun to roll out a plan to reopen the state’s economies, with horse racing included in phase one of the multi-date strategy.
“We were able to come to an agreement yesterday, specifically with the group that’s going to start, Churchill Downs,” Beshear said of the plan to resume racing in Kentucky. “They are going to start accepting horses and start accepting folks on the backside of the track on May 11. There will be no fans for racing.”
Shortly after Beshear’s briefing, Churchill Downs confirmed its intention to reopen its stable areas at both Churchill Downs racetrack and the auxiliary training center, Trackside, May 11 under strict guidelines to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. Churchill Downs’ stable areas have been closed since Dec. 31 for annual winter renovations and were originally scheduled to reopen March 17. The start of the 2020 spring meet was originally scheduled for April 25.
“The stable areas will reopen under a phased, systematic approach,” read a release from the Louisville track. “Opening day of the 2020 spring meet with spectator-free racing will be communicated in the coming days after track officials evaluate its incoming horse population and load-in procedures.”
There will be a phased, systematic, and controlled return of horses and their personnel to the stable areas starting May 11 between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. (all times ET). Horses stabled at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots may return May 11-13. Horses located at Gulfstream Park, Tampa Bay Downs, and at Florida training centers are allowed to ship in May 14-16. Horses based at Oaklawn Park are cleared to arrive May 17-19. Horses from other locales will be permitted May 20.
Live racing has not been conducted in Kentucky since March 25, when Churchill Downs Inc.-owned Turfway Park ended its meet three days early after Beshear urged all nonessential businesses to close because of COVID-19. Keeneland canceled its spring meet, which was scheduled to run in April, due to the coronavirus.
Racing at Churchill Downs during the spring meet will be conducted spectator-free “until government officials approve fans returning to the historic track,” Churchill officials said in their release.
When racing returns to Churchill Downs, it will be staged at a minimum of four days per week, Thursday through Sunday. A daily post time for the first race has not been finalized. A revised stakes schedule and condition book for the schedule of races also will be issued in the coming days.
Tickets for previously scheduled May race dates will automatically be refunded at the point of purchase, and ticket holders will receive an email with additional details. Tickets for June race dates will be addressed at a later date.
Only authorized racetrack employees and Kentucky Horse Racing Commission license holders who are providing support for a horse stabled at the facility will be permitted on property. This specifically includes only trainers with horses stabled or racing on the facility grounds and those who are responsible for the care of the horses (veterinarians, grooms, exercise riders, and farriers).
Last month, Churchill Downs postponed the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) until Sept. 5.
Beshear praised the protocols Churchill Downs intends to implement, including temperature checks.
“I will tell you that this is one of the most detailed plans that we have seen about specific security checks everybody has to go through,” he said.
“We truly appreciate the leadership of Governor Beshear and all of the hard work and guidance that state and local officials and public health experts have provided us to safely reopen,” Churchill Downs racetrack president Kevin Flanery said. “The health and safety of our horsemen, staff, and community remains paramount. Strict compliance with our comprehensive COVID-19 Action Plan and social distancing guidelines is our responsible duty to effectively contain the virus.”
Highlights from Churchill Downs’ COVID-19 Action Plan
Churchill Downs, in conjunction with other Kentucky racetracks and the KHRC, has identified specific protocols for its stabling and racing facilities as it relates to COVID-19. A multitude of precautions and procedures based on criteria set by public health experts will be implemented to ensure the safety of all employees, stakeholders, and horses.
Pre-entry procedures include wearing at minimum a cloth/mask or face covering prior to entering and all times while on the grounds, COVID-19 testing, and passing a medical screening, which includes a questionnaire and temperature reading.
All individuals who refuse to comply with the COVID-19 action plan or those who do not pass the medical screening will be denied entry onto the premises and asked to self-quarantine per Center for Disease Control guidelines. A log will be kept for individuals who fail initial medical screening so that track security can ensure current CDC self-quarantine timelines have been met prior to attempted re-entry to site.
Each person on the grounds will be given a color-coded wristband, which will indicate that person has passed that day’s screening. Each day, a new color will be used to ensure that all individuals are cleared to be on the grounds.
In accordance with CDC guidelines, all horsemen and racetrack employees will be required to practice safe social distancing procedures. This includes avoiding group gatherings of any size and maintaining a six-foot social distancing protocol for all interactions. Track security will enforce social distancing policies in effect, and repeated non-compliance will result in removal from the site.
On-Site Daily Check-Ins
In addition to screening at the point of entry to the grounds, Churchill Downs will set up a process for daily on-site check-ins to screen individuals residing on the backside. These individuals will be required to report to a designated location on the grounds where they will have their temperature checked and must answer the questions for the medical questionnaire. Tracks will require all trainers to submit a badge list identifying their employees that will be cross-referenced to ensure that all employees are screened daily. Trainers will be advised of any individuals who failed to show up for their daily screening.
At the conclusion of daily screenings, security will also randomly check to make sure horsemen have the current color-coded wristband for each day. Anyone who does not have the correct wristband will be asked to re-screen immediately.
Churchill Downs will make medical staff available to provide more detailed medical evaluations for those individuals who do not pass the screening in an effort to determine if they meet the CDC guidelines for quarantining. Those who are not required to quarantine will be allowed to return to their regular assigned area(s) and will continue to participate in daily medical screenings. Those required to quarantine will be asked to report to their trainer to coordinate the off-site quarantine location in accordance with current CDC guidance.
At the conclusion of their CDC-recommended duration of quarantine, the individual must be reevaluated by a medical professional. If the individual still exhibits symptoms associated with COVID-19, the medical professional may recommend additional isolation or off-site treatment at that time. Conversely, upon successful medical re-screening, the individual will be allowed to return to their regular assigned area(s) and will continue to participate in daily medical screenings.
On-Site Stabled Horses & Personnel Procedures
Personnel are encouraged to increase the frequency of hand washing by utilizing exterior hand-sanitizing stations or by utilizing restrooms/bath houses that are stocked with liquid soap.
In addition, sharing of equipment (lead shanks, grooming tools, mucking equipment, etc.) shall be minimized. If equipment must be shared among horsemen, it shall be disinfected between uses.
Churchill Downs will ensure that jockeys and staff are adequately spaced out in the jockeys’ room to comply with proper social distance guidelines. Jockeys shipping in from out of state or are outside of the normal colony will be separated in another room.
Grandstand, Frontside, & Paddock Access
Access to the grandstand, frontside, and paddock will be strictly limited to horsemen with horses racing and approved racing officials and track staff. All individuals in these areas will be checked by security personnel to ensure they have the correct color wristband for access or they will be screened if this is their first time on the grounds that day. Congregating on the apron in large groups will not be allowed. All facilities will remain closed to the general public. There will be no on-site wagering for racing to reduce the likelihood of congregation and to limit touch points on the grounds. Paddock access will be limited to the trainer, assistant trainer, groom, and horse only.
Cleaning Protocols for Backside & Trackside Operations
Dormitories: To maintain cleanliness within the backside dormitories, track personnel will ensure cleaning of frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, door handles, handrails, and tables, as well as non-porous surfaces in bathrooms and laundry areas using EPA- and CDC-approved disinfectants. In addition, wastebaskets will be placed in visible locations and emptied regularly.
Restrooms: All restrooms/bath houses are pre-cleaned daily and routinely cleaned during normal operations, provided six-foot social distancing practices can be maintained. This includes frequent removal of trash and thorough cleaning of all surfaces. All restrooms/bath houses are stocked with liquid soap, and all employees and on-site partners are encouraged to frequently wash their hands.
Training has been developed and will be provided to all team members, security, and medical personnel on all new procedures and monitoring/reporting requirements. Medical personnel will develop and be trained on procedures to ensure that all suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection are properly communicated, documented, and directed to appropriate quarantine facilities.
To limit exposure and prevent the spread of germs and disease, the following restrictions shall apply:
- No fans or media will be allowed at the track
- No guests, no exceptions
- No congregating in any areas
- Official clockers and gap attendants to use their designated space(s) only
- Only trainers and horsemen with horses stabled at Churchill Downs and Trackside, and others responsible for the care of the horses (veterinarians, grooms, exercise riders, farriers), are allowed in the stable area
- Track kitchen will remain open to serve on-site personnel only via carryout orders
- No access wristbands will be issued to family members or guests of horsemen and racetrack employees
- Individuals under the age of 16 will be prohibited from entering the barn area at any time