Horse racing in California will continue at tracks in the midst of the state’s stay-at-home order because of the coronavirus after consulting with officials of the California Horse Racing Board. Santa Anita was given the go-ahead less than an hour before Friday’s first post at 1 p.m.
The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields in the Bay Area, will donate all of its profits during this time. Details were still being worked out as to who would receive those funds.
Los Alamitos will also conduct live quarter-horse racing at night.
The general public will not be allowed at any track or training center, in addition to owners and the media. Only CHRB-licensed people will be allowed at the races and essential personnel such as ambulance drivers, track maintenance crews and janitorial staff.
The Stronach Group, Del Mar and the Thoroughbred Owners of California made their pitch to keep running to Gov. Gavin Newsom, Lourdes M. Castro Ramirez, secretary of California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, the body that oversees racing, and Rick Baedeker, executive director of the CHRB.
“While not authorized to speak on behalf of the governor, the California Horse Racing Board seeks to provide guidance during this complex time,” Baedeker said explaining the recommendation. “The CHRB recognizes that continuing to train and race may be considered essential to the health and welfare of the thousands of horses stabled at California racetracks and the hundreds of people caring for them and living within the stable area.
“The racing program provides the economic engine required to maintain the feed, veterinary care, and exercise for the horses, as well as the wages for those attending to them. … CHRB Chairman Greg Ferraro concurs with this assessment.”
The tracks and owners made the argument that horse racing is a self-contained ecosystem and that the majority of people who care for the horses live on the backstretch of the track. There are more than 1,000 residents at Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields.
There are more than 3,000 horses at Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields. Horses need to be exercised to keep from being fractious in their stalls and potentially hurting themselves. Representatives of the tracks argued that the number of people it takes to put on racing is far less than what it takes on a daily basis to care, train and exercise the horses.
The fear is that if horses are kept in training, with no chance of racing, that many owners and trainers would leave California. It costs around $100 to $125 a day to keep a horse under the care of a trainer, and without the possibility of racing purses the industry would collapse.
Racing is currently continuing in Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas, Pennsylvania and other states. Maryland has shut down racing because of the governor’s order. Racing at Aqueduct in New York was suspended when a backstretch worker at Belmont Park tested positive for COVID-19.
According to an American Horse Council study in 2018, the equine industry has a $13.3-billion financial impact on the state. This includes horses that are not race horses. The study also cited 77,000 direct employees in the horse business.
The economic engine that drives racing is wagering, some 90% of it which is done off-track and from anywhere in the world. So, not having crowds to bet on the races in person is only a small financial liability. There are more losses from no food and beverage sales.
The opportunity to run is on a day-to-day basis as things can change quickly as everyone is dealing with this virus.