It was a welcome sight to the entire horse racing community as the first vans arrived into the Churchill Downs Stable Gate early Monday morning from Fair Grounds in New Orleans. There were approximately 175 horses scheduled to be on the grounds by the end of the day, according to senior director of the stable area Steve Hargrave.
“We’re so glad to be coming home,” trainer Greg Foley said.
Foley, who lives with his family in Oldham County, Ky., had to experience an unplanned, extended stay in New Orleans following the COVID-19 pandemic that delayed entry to the backside at Churchill Downs by nearly two months. Foley is annually one of the first trainers to arrive at Churchill Downs and he held the tradition Monday as part of his string of horses were the first to pass the Stable Gate at 6 a.m. (all times Eastern).
Other trainers that arrived Monday included Tom Amoss, Steve Asmussen, Mark Casse, Bret Calhoun, Steve Margolis and Al Stall Jr.
Prior to their arrival at Churchill Downs, approximately 295 COVID-19 tests were administered to all stable employees from Fair Grounds. There have been an additional 580 tests completed at Churchill Downs by Wild Health of Lexington.
Approximately 300 additional horses will be shipped into Churchill Downs from Fair Grounds over the next two days. Horses stabled in Florida are scheduled to arrive May 14-16 while horses from Arkansas are slated to arrive May 17-19. Horses that have been stabled in Kentucky and other locales can arrive starting on May 20.
Many top horses were on the first vans back to Churchill Downs including Longines Kentucky Oaks (Grade I) winner Serengeti Empress, multiple graded stakes winner Mr. Money and likely Matt Winn Stakes (GIII) contenders Major Fed and Mr. Big News.
Racing is scheduled to begin Saturday at Churchill Downs with a first post of 1 p.m. Entries for Saturday’s races will close on Tuesday.
As part of the provisions to resume live racing under strict guidelines and protocols, racing will be conducted spectator-free at Churchill Downs with no fans, owners or media until government officials lift restrictions. Only authorized racetrack employees and KHRC license holders who are providing support for a horse stabled at the facility are permitted on property. This specifically includes only trainers with horses stabled or racing on the facility grounds and those who are responsible for the care of the horses (veterinarians, grooms, exercise riders and farriers).
HIGHLIGHTS FROM CHURCHILL DOWNS’ COVID-19 ACTION PLAN
PROCEDURES, GUIDELINES AND DIRECTIVES
Pre-entry procedures include wearing at minimum a cloth/mask or face covering prior to entering and all times while on the grounds, COVID-19 testing and passing a medical screening which includes a medical questionnaire and temperature reading.
All individuals who refuse to comply with the COVID-19 Action Plan or those who do not pass the medical screening will be denied entry onto the premises and asked to self-quarantine per CDC guidelines. A log will be kept for individuals that fail initial medical screening so that track security can ensure current CDC self-quarantine timelines have been met prior to attempted re-entry to site.
Each person on the grounds will be given a color-coded wristband which will validate that person has passed that day’s screening. Each day a new color will be used to ensure that all individuals are cleared to be on the grounds.
In accordance with CDC guidelines, all horsemen and racetrack employees will be required to practice safe social distancing procedures. This includes avoiding group gatherings of any size and maintaining a six-foot social distancing protocol for all interactions. Track security will enforce social distancing policies in effect and repeated non-compliance will result in removal from the site.
ONSITE DAILY CHECK-INS
In addition to screening at the point of entry to the grounds, Churchill Downs will set up a process for daily onsite check-ins to screen individuals residing on the backside. These individuals will be required to report to a designated location on the grounds where they will have their temperature checked and must answer the questions for the medical questionnaire. Tracks will require all trainers to submit a badge list identifying their employees which will be cross-referenced to ensure that all employees are screened daily. Trainers will be advised of any individuals who failed to show up for their daily screening.
At the conclusion of daily screenings, security will also randomly check to make sure horsemen have the current color-coded wristband for each day. Anyone who does not have the correct wristband will be asked to re-screen immediately.
Churchill Downs will make medical staff available to provide more detailed medical evaluations for those individuals who do not pass the screening in an effort to determine if they meet the CDC guidelines for quarantining. Those who are not required to quarantine will be allowed to return to their regular assigned area(s) and will continue to participate in daily medical screenings. Those required to quarantine will be asked to report to their trainer to coordinate the offsite quarantine location in accordance with current CDC guidance.
At the conclusion of their CDC recommended duration of quarantine, the individual must be re-evaluated by a medical professional. If the individual still exhibits symptoms associated with COVID-19, the medical professional may recommend additional isolation or off site treatment at that time. Conversely, upon successful medical re-screening, the individual will be allowed to return to their regular assigned area(s) and will continue to participate in daily medical screenings.
ONSITE STABLED HORSES & PERSONNEL PROCEDURES
Personnel are encouraged to increase the frequency of handwashing by utilizing exterior hand sanitizing stations or by utilizing restrooms/bath houses that are stocked with liquid soap.
In addition, sharing of equipment shall be minimized (lead shanks, grooming tools, mucking equipment, etc.). If equipment must be shared among horsemen, it shall be disinfected between uses.
Churchill Downs will ensure that jockeys and staff are adequately spaced out in the jockeys’ room to comply with proper social distance guidelines. Jockeys shipping in from out of state or are outside of the normal colony will be separated in another room.
GRANDSTAND/FRONTSIDE ACCESS/PADDOCK AREA
Grandstand, frontside and paddock access will be strictly limited to horsemen with horses racing and approved racing officials and track staff. All individuals in these areas will be checked by security personnel to ensure they have the correct color wristband for access or they will be screened if this is their first time on the grounds that day. Congregating on the apron in large groups will not be allowed. All facilities will remain closed to the general public. There will be no onsite wagering for racing to reduce the likelihood of congregation and to limit touchpoints on the grounds. Paddock access will be limited to the trainer, assistant trainer, groom and horse only.
CLEANING PROTOCOLS FOR BACKSIDE & TRACKSIDE OPERATIONS
Dormitories – To maintain cleanliness within our backside dormitories, track personnel will ensure cleaning of frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, door handles, handrails and tables, as well as non-porous surfaces in bathrooms, and laundry areas using EPA and CDC approved disinfectants. In addition, wastebaskets will be placed in visible locations and emptied regularly.
Restrooms – All restrooms/bath houses are pre-cleaned daily and routinely cleaned during normal operations provided six-foot social distances practices can be maintained. This includes frequent removal of trash and thorough cleaning of all surfaces. All restrooms/bath houses are stocked with liquid soap and all employees and on-site partners are encouraged to frequently wash their hands.
Training has been developed and will be provided to all team members, security and medical personnel on all new procedures and monitoring/reporting requirements. Medical personnel will develop and be trained on procedures to ensure that all suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection are properly communicated, documented and directed to appropriate quarantine facilities.
To limit exposure and prevent the spread of germs and disease the following restrictions shall apply:
No fans or media will be allowed at the track;
No guests, no exceptions;
No congregating in any areas;
Official clockers and gap attendants to use their designated space(s) only;
Only trainers and horsemen with horses stabled at Churchill Downs and Trackside and others are responsible for the care of the horses (veterinarians, grooms, exercise riders, farriers) are allowed in the stable area;
Track kitchen will remain open to serve onsite personnel only via carryout orders;
No access wrist bands will be issued to family members or guests of horsemen and racetrack employees; and
Individuals under the age of 16 will be prohibited from entering the barn area at any time.
$559,000 DAILY AVERAGE FOR PURSES, $2.25 MILLION STAKES SCHEDULE ON TAP FOR SPRING MEET
Horsemen will be able to compete for an average of $559,000 each day when the 2020 Spring Meet at Churchill Downs begins Saturday.
After opening weekend (May 16-17), racing at Churchill Downs will be staged Thursdays through Sundays with a special holiday Monday card on Memorial Day, May 25. Post time for the first race each day will be 1 p.m. (all times Eastern). Closing day of the shortened 26-day Spring Meet is Saturday, June 27. All racing for Spring Meet will be conducted spectator-free until government officials issue approval of fans otherwise at Churchill Downs.
A total of 125 races cumulatively worth $7,265,000 are offered in the first condition book, which covers May 16-June 5. Maiden special weight races offer a purse of $79,000 and allowance races range between $81,000 and $88,000. All purses include prize money from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund.
The stakes schedule throughout the meet features 16 stakes totaling $2,250,000:
Saturday, May 23 (Stephen Foster Preview Day): Grade III, $150,000 Matt Winn (3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles); $100,000 Blame (4-year-olds and up at one mile); $100,000 Shawnee (fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles); $100,000 War Chant (3-year-olds at one mile on turf); and $100,000 Tepin (3-year-old fillies at one mile on turf).
Saturday, May 30: Grade III, $100,000 Old Forester Mint Julep (fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on turf) and Grade III, $100,000 Winning Colors (fillies and mares at six furlongs).
Saturday, June 6: $100,000 Aristides (Listed) (4-year-olds and up at six furlongs) and Grade III, $100,000 Dogwood (3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs).
Saturday, June 13: Grade III, $100,000 Louisville (4-year-olds and up at 1 ½ miles on turf).
Saturday, June 20: Grade II, $200,000 Wise Dan (4-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles on turf) and $100,000 Audubon (3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles on turf).
Saturday, June 27 (Stephen Foster Day): Grade II, $500,000 Stephen Foster (4-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles); Grade II, $200,000 Fleur de Lis (fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles); Grade III, $100,000 Regret (3-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles on turf); and Grade III, $100,000 Bashford Manor (2-year-olds at six furlongs).
The second condition book for racing between June 6-27 is expected to be published by May 29.