(Racing at Churchill Downs … it may happen again some day / Photo by Holly M. Smith)
Earlier this week, we wrote a story indicating that Churchill Downs would be allowed to open its’ backside and barn area beginning next week and specifically on April 28.
We also wrote that Churchill Downs could possibly begin conducting live horse racing on, or before May 15 at the famed and historic racetrack in Louisville — as long as no spectators were allowed on the premises.
For a couple of days, a speck of light shined on our old, new, remodeled, rented, leased, owned and soon-to-be re-financed Kentucky homes. For just a few moments, we had hope that better days were ahead for an entire industry and group of working people that desperately needed some good news. For just awhile, we looked forward — and not back — to renewing our lives and ways of living.
We were wrong.
I was wrong.
This morning — after waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting for Gov. Andy Beshear to give the final order and permission slip to proceed — Churchill Downs announced that it “must” delay the opening yet again. This time until, “at least,” May 5.
This morning — after hoping, and hoping, and hoping and hoping that Gov. Andy Beshear would loosen his death grip on the Thoroughbred industry and allow horse racing to proceed in this Commonwealth like it is in other states right now — Churchill Downs had to postpone its’ plans to open the backside; was forced to refuse entry to friends and families who make their homes in Louisville for 9 months out of the year; and delay final preparations to race again. Yet again.
This morning — after hours of planning how to enforce safe distancing mandates; and developing safety protocols; and implementing testing procedures at other jurisdictions; and disinfecting the jockey’s quarters; and designing how to limit access to the racetrack to only essential personnel; and investing in expert advice, counsel and input from international experts — Churchill Downs had to cancel. Yet again.
I can explain all the efforts that we took to ensure that the plan and validate the “story” were both accurate and true.
I can write about the trainers currently quarantined at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans who were recently ordered to report and begin “testing requirements” that would allow them to move back home to Kentucky.
I can detail how each person licensed on the backside of the Fair Grounds had to go through the same process. Every groom. Every hot walker. Every barn employee. The only ones spared the “test” were the horses and the goats.
I can spell out how some of the most notable trainers who normally hold down their forts and barns on the backside of Churchill Downs recently received phone calls and were encouraged to submit their stall applications. ASAP, mind you.
I can even give some definition as to the origination of a new Churchill Downs’ “condition book” and what races were being planned to be run at the historic venue in the coming weeks — if not days.
I can confirm that all the plans were in place. I can tell you that the safety protocols were professionally designed and approved, at great cost and effort. I can tell you that every safety precaution box was checked. And, I can tell you that Oaklawn Park is conducting live racing safely. I can tell you that Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs are, too. I can even point to Will Rogers and Fonner Park, for God’s sake.
The model is safe. The model works. And, Kentucky horse trainers — who have nearly every stall jammed up at Turfway Park and are dying on the vine at The Thoroughbred Center in Lexington — are desperate.
We thought the plan was well thought out.
We thought the proposal was perfectly designed and professional orchestrated.
We knew that the protocols had been submitted to the office of Governor Beshear for consideration and contemplation.
We confirmed that the trainers at the Fair Grounds were told to get ready to come home. Home.
We knew that Churchill Downs had done its’ job and had done it well. It was ready to resume operations. Safely.
We also knew that Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton and others have been consulting with safety professionals and developing methods and precautions that will allow them to operate in the near future, as well.
And, we knew that an answer from the Governor was expected to be delivered by Tuesday, or Wednesday.
After all, on Wednesday, I took my lovely wife over to the Home Depot in Louisville so that she can buy some flowers to plant. There was not a parking spot to be had. The line to just gain entrance extended out the door; down the sidewalk and nearly to the road.
Social distancing? My ass.
(Is this safer that allowing horse racing at Churchill Downs without spectators? Seriously?)
But it does not matter.
I was wrong.
And, I am sorry if my words — which have now been proven to be incorrect — gave false hope to any and to some.
I am sorry.
But I am also convinced — with deep moral conviction — that while I was wrong and Churchill Downs will, in fact, not be allowed to open its’ backside and gates on April 28, I am even more convinced that the decision to prohibit Churchill Downs from opening is worse.
It is wrong to keep horses confined to stalls — both in Kentucky and other states — were there is no chance to race; to run; to do what they are bred, born and schooled to do.
It is wrong to prohibit live horse racing in the world’s best racing community when it is being conducted safely in other states — like Florida, Arkansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma — and not even allowed here.
It is wrong to prohibit trainers and all their employees from coming home. Back to where they live. Back to their families. Back to their children, who need their parents more than anything else. Back to their communities. Back to where they are loved and cared for and reside. This is their home. They should be allowed to come home.
It is wrong that horses are leaving Kentucky-based trainers by the barn fulls. That soon trainers will not be able to pay their employees. That soon many operations will be forced to cut back on feed. That soon many horses may be left orphaned, or simply given away.
It is wrong that due to these actions and inactions that the annual horse sales will undoubtedly be negatively impacted. And, as a result, many small breeders and breeding operations will not be able to survive, either.
And, it is wrong for no one from our Governor’s office has gone to the training centers and the barns to explain why.
Why can Florida continue to race and Churchill Downs can’t? Why can Oaklawn Park conduct live horse racing safely and Kentucky can’t? Why, for God’s sakes, can Fonner Park and Will Rogers Downs race, and we cannot? Is Nebraska and Oklahoma better able to protect the industry and the people — at the same time — than Kentucky?
Hey Governor, why don’t you put on your Mr. Rogers’ cardigan; drive up to The Thoroughbred Center and walk those barns and talk to those trainers. Give that story a spin?
You may want to wear a pair of boots.
Simply put, it is wrong. And, more directly, Gov. Andy Beshear is wrong.
It is time to let our people come home. It is the human thing to do. Kids want to see their parents again. Now.
It is time to let our horses run in best and most safe environment. It is the humane thing to do.
It is time.