Racing and COVID-19: Florida Derby Coming Up, Gulfstream Stays Tough

Racing is suspended around the world but a few US tracks continue on; Fort Erie set to open backstretch April 12 for its May 26 start.

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Aqueduct racing in front of empty stands. Aqueduct has now suspended racing. (NYRA PHOTO)

By: Jennifer Morrison |

Around the globe, with the COVID-19 virus being shown to spread sharply now that testing and results are becoming known, horse racing continues to be shut down or postponed.

One example of this testing and how long it takes for areas to get results appeared in an article in Macleans magazine this week, stating “By 11 a.m. on March 23, Canada had run 102,803 tests. Florida, with about half of our population, had only run 11,063 tests”

Of course, racehorses must be kept healthy and exercised, fed and cared for, and that is number one on the minds of horsepeople. But so is the bottom line and with racing suspended, purse money is not available, leading to a ripple effect that is daunting should the virus not be halted in its tracks soon.

Owners and trainers are paying bills with no possible income in the near future, horses may be shipped out of tracks to farms and the question arises: is there enough room for all these horses that are taken out of track training?

There were new developments in racing on Tuesday, March 24, the most significant being the battle between Gulfstream Park and the city of Hallandale to keep racing going as it approaches its biggest day of the winter season.

Gulfstream is one of a few major tracks still going along with Santa Anita, Oaklawn and Tampa Bay Downs.

Saturday is the Florida Derby (G1), a major race for 3-year-olds, usually a big stepping stone to the Kentucky Derby, but with the Derby postponed to September, it is a big race for 3-year-olds who will have a lot of time between this race and the Run for the Roses.

But Tuesday evening, the Sun-Sentinel reported that the city of Hallandale is pressuring Gulfstream to shut down racing:

“They need to stop the racing,” Hallandale Beach Vice Mayor Sabrina Javellana told the Sun-Sentinel. “We can’t just bend to their will just because they say they’re going to sue us or [take] whatever legal action. They’re a powerful entity, but we can’t just allow that to go on. They’re blatantly violating the Broward County order.”

FORT ERIE RACETRACK is scheduled to open its backstretch on April 12 to prepare for the racing season which has a start date of May 26. The track’s COO Tom Valiquette offered and update to its horsepeople.

CHARLES TOWN RACETRACK in West Virginia suspended racing on March 24, while racing in Ireland was halted the same day. Racing was also stopped in New South Wales and Victoria in Australia.

CANTERBURY DOWNS in Minnesota is scheduled to begin on May 15, but track president Randy Sampson says it is unlikely to open on time. A story in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports on this situation and also interviewed Canadian ROBERTINO DIODORO, who trains one of the largest stables in North America:

“We’re still running at Oaklawn, which has been a lifesaver,” said Diodoro, who has won three training titles at Canterbury Park. “With so many places shut down, it’s been a complete nightmare. I don’t think I’ve ever been this stressed. If it doesn’t turn real quick, there are going to be a lot of people in trouble.”

The Star-Tribune story can be read here