US racing is different from European racing in that our racetracks are training centres and stabling centres, so we do have a handful of tracks that are still operating under the premise that the day-to-day operations need to continue – whether we shut down the racing or not. You still need people to go to the barns and take care of the horses.
In Southern California where I’m based, at Santa Anita they stable up to 2000 horses there. And there are another 700-800 horses at surrounding racetracks that come and work at Santa Anita, so it’s one of the biggest training centres in the world.
The racetrack is the home to these horses so whether they’re racing or not, there’s going to be people at the barns every day caring for the horses. Trainers, grooms, exercise riders are all going to have to be there so nothing really changes whether they do race or don’t race. That has kept a handful of racetracks open around the country.
Here in Southern California – to give you a microcosm of one of the bigger circuits – the racing industry had actually cut a deal with the governor’s office to keep Golden Gate Fields and Santa Anita open by maintaining very diligent practices of social distancing beyond the normal recommendations.
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We thought we were good to go, but in the US you have the federal government, the state government and the local government and it was actually the County Health Board of Los Angeles that came in and shut Santa Anita down a week ago.
Even though we had a waiver from the governor and pledged all the profits that were made on racing during the coronavirus outbreak to go to COVID-19 victims and charities, the local health board shut us down. There’s a lot to navigate, and in the US you have a lot of local municipalities that want to have that power and make that call.
In Florida, they’re still running both racetracks – Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Park. In California the only racetrack that is running is Los Alamitos which is a small racetrack in Orange County. The reason is because Orange County is a smaller county, and the racetrack owner Dr. Allred means something there – he’s a little more important. But for Santa Anita – even though it’s a gigantic racetrack – LA County is a huge pond and she’s a small fish.
Every day we don’t know if a local government will decide ‘hey, you guys need to shut down’, but we have a handful of tracks operating across the country. What’s changed is, last Tuesday if you went on social media Twitter was ablaze with people upset over a disqualification in a Pick-5 at Fonner Park, which is a racetrack in Nebraska I’ve never even been to. It holds a maximum of about 5,000 people but all of a sudden it’s the centre of our racing universe and that’s just the world we live in these days.
On US racing as a whole, we’re desperately in need of contracting. In the 1980s you saw racetracks popping up everywhere. We have so many racetracks in this country and there’s never a moment without racing.
For me, it’s great and I love it but we went well past the point of diminishing returns and now we’re in a contraction. We’re still breeding 20,000 horses a year in the US and I just don’t know if the demand is there for that.
I think unfortunately due to coronavirus a lot of these racetracks that are shutting down are going to have a really hard time opening back up because, the way the economic model works in the US with a lot of these brick-and-mortar facilities, if they don’t have their live dates that could be an absolute coffin nail.
Hopefully we come out of it as a stronger industry altogether, but it’s going to be a tough thing to get through.
FROM PADDY POWER’S RACING ICONS DOCUMENTARY WITH RUBY…
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- Ruby’s hilarious story about dad Ted’s terrible medical advice after nasty leg break