Every year, Keeneland Racetrack in Lexington, KY hosts a spring meet in April that includes many high stakes races. It draws horse jockeys and trainers from all over the world. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the meet was officially canceled back in March.
Chief Executive of Keeneland Bill Thomason said he exhausted all possibilities of holding the races in April. This included the idea of racing without spectators. However, this was unable to happen, especially with the local guidelines set by Gov. Andy Beshear.
In March, Thomason discussed the issue with the Courier-Journal:
“During this time, we all need to take care of each other. In light of the cancellation of our spring meet, Keeneland will focus its attention and energy on identifying ways in which we can offer support and aid to the Central Kentucky community and horse industry.”
Loss of meet cost Keeneland $100 million
Gov. Beshear announced Phase 1 of re-opening Kentucky businesses, this included the ability of racetracks to resume racing. The official date they were able to begin was May 11. Currently, Keeneland is working to add summer races before their already scheduled fall meet.
Keeneland is negotiating with Ellis Park in Henderson, KY to hold some of their live racing events. The exact dates have not been released, but they would be sometime in July.
“I’m optimistic we can get something done,” said Bob Elliston, Keeneland’s vice president of racing and sales. “It won’t be a replacement for the 17 days we lost. There’s no way we can do that. But I think it will be meaningful for the horsemen.”
Officials at Keeneland have said that the loss of the Spring Meet has cost the track $100 million. They have been doing all they can to try to make up what they lost.
Keeneland hopes to add races from Ellis Park in July
The community is vocal about the potential of adding these races. The horses are running again and have been training to remain healthy. Jockeys are prepared, even though they know it will be spectator free. Elliston said that there were 650 horses being housed on the backside in Mid-March. Another 400 will be shipped in since the approval from Gov. Beshear.
Even though fans won’t be allowed in the track, they will still be able to watch and bet horses online. The impact of online streaming and betting services during the coronavirus pandemic have been immense. It’s not clear now what sporting events will be available in July, but if remains to be a small amount, the online presence will be very high.
“We would want to be respectful of their footprint and not adversely affect their horsemen and schedule,” Elliston said. “We’ve had very positive and cooperative conversation with Ellis Park.”
Horse racing is starting to slowly make its comeback in Kentucky. Churchill Downs began racing again without spectators on May 16th. Focus is on adding these races to the iconic Keeneland track, but there are many things to look forward to in the Kentucky horse racing industry.
The Kentucky Derby and Oaks has been moved to Labor Day Weekend, with Churchill also working with races from Ellis Park. Keeneland also has to look ahead to the fall meet and the Breeders Cup, which the track hosts in November.