Maryland Jockey Club reverses course, suspends live racing amid pandemic

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St. Paddy’s Day 2015 at Laurel Park

One day after Gov. Larry Hogan issued an executive order limiting gatherings to 10 people, the Maryland Jockey Club reversed course on its plan to hold racing today, Saturday and Sunday without spectators.

The organization announced it was pausing racing at Laurel Park and Rosecroft Raceway “as part of the continuing effort to protect the health and safety of essential personnel and the horses they care for” during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our top priority is the well-being of every person and every horse in our community and we look forward to resuming when the state and federal leaders and health authorities deem it appropriate to do so,” Maryland Jockey Club said in a statement.

The announcement cited orders from Hogan’s office but did not specify which ones. As Baltimore Fishbowl reported yesterday, racing officials were proceeding with three days of races because they complied with the governor’s order.

Alan Foreman, a local attorney and the chairman and CEO of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, told Baltimore Fishbowl that racing is an extension of training activities permitted under the rule.

Prior to Thursday’s order from the governor, crowds of 50 people were permitted across the state. The governor also ordered that casinos, racetracks and off-track betting facilities be closed, but running races without any fans was deemed acceptable.

Representatives from the Stronach Group did not respond to multiple attempts to confirm if today’s decision was in response to the limits on gatherings, nor did they answer questions about what would happen to the horses stabled on-site or the backstretch workers.

On Twitter, Robert J. Lillis, of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, shared a link to collect money for backstretch workers who are “facing hardships and needing money to eat.”

Speaking to Baltimore Fishbowl on Thursday, Foreman stressed the importance of work routines for racehorses.

“Thoroughbred horses must have the ability to exercise and run, if at all possible,” he said. “They cannot just stand in stalls.”

The Maryland Jockey Club, which is owned by the Stronach Group, had planned to limit race days to essential personnel and bring in a trailer for extra space so the jockeys and valets could minimize close contact. Officials were also going to monitor the health of jockeys and take their temperatures.

But as Foreman noted on Thursday, the response to coronavirus is constantly evolving, and like other businesses, the state’s horse racing industry will have to adapt.

“This is an evolving situation, and if circumstances change, or it is not feasible for us to operate even in compliance with the protocols, we will not operate,” he said.

As the Associated Press reported on Friday, the evolving regulations to stop the spread of the virus have wreaked havoc on tracks that were planning to run while most other professional sports leagues have closed.

Aqueduct Racetrack suspended live racing after a worker at Belmont Park tested positive for COVID-19. Most notably, the Kentucky Derby was postponed until September, and Hogan said earlier this week the state is in talks with Stronach to do the same for the Preakness Stakes.

The Louisiana Derby, typically one of the most prominent races in the lead-up to the Kentucky Derby, is, as of this writing, going on Saturday as planned.

Brandon Weigel

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