April 17, 2020
A Year Like No Other
by Tom Carley
I have started to write this column at least two dozen times over the last month. However, as I started to write the column, I realized there were many more important things to discuss than the Derby.
When the news of the delay in the Derby was first announced I was going to write a column focusing on the opportunities facing the Derby preps. I had in mind a Travers that would be moved to opening week of the Saratoga season and serve as a 9 furlong prep. I envisioned Derby preps being run at racetracks like Ellis Park, Arlington Park and Del Mar. Soon I began to realize that determining a final date for the Derby was something that could not be set in stone and to speculate would be irresponsible.
Then I began to think of the philanthropic opportunities of this year’s Derby. Nearly everyone in the industry has been effected and not in a positive way. Employees have lost jobs, owners have not been able to pay trainers, handle is down, etc. Why not make the 2020 Kentucky Derby about giving back to the Industry? Take a percentage of the large handle and give it back to those from backstretch workers to farm owners to veterinarians to mutual workers that were laid off, etc. Have fans spend the money usually on a hat or a suit and put it into large 50-50 pools in which the proceeds benefit the caring of horses and people in this great game? This effort would need to be spear headed by someone with many more followers than my loyal readers.
Then I began to think of the trainers. How would they prepare their horses for a Derby that as of now is only penciled in on the calendar? The cancellation of prep races means that horses are going to have to have their calendars adjusted to peak in late summer instead of early May. This also means that a horse would have to spin back and run in the Breeder’s Cup Classic about 8 weeks from the Derby. This year will definitely require trainers to demonstrate their ability in managing their horses.
What We Do Know
The Triple Crown for 2020 is going to be unlike anything ever seen. Plans are for the Kentucky Derby to be run on Saturday of Labor Day weekend which is September 5. Assuming the Preakness would be run two weeks later, this would leave only seven weeks between the Preakness and the Breeder’s Cup. It does not appear to me that there is enough space to run the Belmont Stakes in between The Preakness and Breeder’s Cup.
What I Can Guess
What I originally thought is that NYRA would choose to run the Belmont Stakes at the end of June. This would be during the Belmont meeting. However, this date would take away from the Belmont Racing Festival held over the July 4th holiday. What I could see happen is to make the Belmont Stakes a part of the July 4th weekend Belmont Festival. This would allow NYRA the maximum time to allow for fan safety as well as for trainers to condition their horses. Would NYRA choose to shorten the Belmont Stakes?
What I Know For Sure
This is a time for everyone in the industry to work together. The races of the Triple Crown are run by three separate organizations that will never be accused of getting along or working together. For the good of the sport, they need to work with the Breeder’s Cup and all four organizations need to finalize a schedule which makes the most sense for the sport.
I continuously hear all sports radio & television stations talk about how no sporting events are being held. The horse racing industry needs to step forward and let the world know that horse racing is still taking place. It is taking place without fans, but it is still taking place. Now would be a great time to introduce/expose the sport to sports fans who are struggling without having their favorite sporting events take place. The NTRA and other organizations need to get the word out that not only is horse racing occurring, but it is a great sport.
This is a most challenging time for all industries and horse racing is no different. However, let’s not only make the best of a bad situation, but let’s cram as many memorable races, moments and quality performances as we can into the last half of 2020. This sport can change its “set in stone” traditions for one year in order to allow the Sport of Kings to become the Sport That Leads Americans Back To Sports. Horse Racing can take advantage of being the only game going to not only win new fans, but also raise much needed money for the humans and horses effected by this tragedy.