Racing in the Time of COVID-19

by Ed Meyer

posted on August 2, 2020 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Horse Racing, | Comments Off on Racing in the Time of COVID-19

Long ago, my son asked me a question. “How do you learn, Daddy?” – For a 5-year-old that was a good one. – Would I go into a litany of logical reasons for how the learning process works? Or, about how life lessons play for future learning. – After further review, I picked up my little boy and spoke from the heart. “Son, sometimes we learn by what we have, and sometimes for what we do without.” He looked with confused eyes and went back to playing. That was good enough for now. I knew he’d learn more in time, and appreciate the wonderful things he would be blessed with in life, and ultimately the things he was forced to do without.

For me, 2020 has been a year of learning. I try and learn something from everything, even if it’s not what to do. Just as important, but not as much fun. – This year has been tough, and ultimately tougher on so many others. I still count myself and my family lucky. We’re all still here and have so far dodged the plague of the century. I’d call that pretty lucky as many more have not.  But all-in-all, I’ve learned some things this year. Sit back and take a look and see if any rings home for you.


1 – Don’t take anything for granted

Life was going on, and I was working at Turfway Park this March. We had been hearing about the virus in other parts of the world and thought our country was bulletproof to the illness. After all, we are the most powerful nation in the world. – As we watched the maps showing the plague we could see it coming closer and still held steadfast to our beliefs. As numbers grew there was nothing we could do but watch and worry as panic set in. – When the remainder of the racing season had been canceled, the reality of not only the pandemic, but the loss of employment faced us all. I was all but sure it would be a short-lived problem and we would move forward. I wasn’t alone in these thoughts.

As it became more and more evident we were in real trouble. The sport of racing was an afterthought. No more worry about running the remainder of the meet, but survival was the topic on everyone’s mind.

If you’ve ever doubted the caring nature of horsemen, please take a deep breath. They fed, cared, and stood by the horses. Many would eat only after the horses were fed and long hours were the daily routine. A couple of tracks were running and that gave us all a little glimpse of normal. – As days turned to weeks other tracks opened giving an opportunity to many. I didn’t live through the 1918 Spanish Flu or the Great Depression, but this was as close as my generation has come.

We took it for granted that all would be well and life would resume. – Since that time, I have seen a great change in the attitude for racing. The people who compete tenaciously on the track; were helping each other survive and live for better days. I’ve always said the backside is a ‘world within the world,’ and no time more than now.


2. – Little by little change would come

Each passing day was media coverage and talk about getting back to racing. The horses needed it as well as the horsemen. – As tracks began to open a little at a time, hope was taking the place of fear. It was still a long road as many meets were being canceled or postponed.

With open dialogue and extensive planning, many tracks were able to open without fans. – Wagering is a 95% off-track venture, and maybe 5% counted from on-track. Racing without fans didn’t seem a bad idea as laid-off workers were receiving needed unemployment to survive, and the horsemen were able to save their sport. There was a glimmer of light where there once was darkness.

Racing was the only sport taking place as professional, college, and high school sports had been canceled due to COVID. It was good to be racing and hope was on the horizon.


3. – The only game in town

In your grandpa’s time, the big three sports were baseball, horse racing, and boxing. – Baseball has tried to get back off the ground with a shorter season but is facing closure due to players contracting the illness as teams are forced to travel. Boxing and MMA are fought on a limited basis and without fans. You won’t be seeing any of the marquee events fighting for the belts anytime soon. There are limited sports from time-to-time – But, Thoroughbred racing is up and running. Some areas have been forced to race without fans, and others have been racing as usual with many safeguards in place.

When you see the hot-walkers bring the horses up the stretch, they will all be wearing masks. The personnel in the paddock all have facial gear in place the entire day. Jockeys have masks when leaving the room, and wear them in the rider’s quarters all day long. There is constant disinfecting and cleaning in sensitive high-traffic areas, and the fans are given a mask to wear at the gate if they don’t have one. Signage, program ads, and constant announcements of the Governor’s mandates for patronage at the races are repeated throughout the day. – Security walks the premises asking guests to kindly social distance as the races take place daily. – The entire property is closed for hours in the middle of the night for a “deep cleaning” of the entire property.

One of the ‘big three’ sports has declined in popularity over the years. Losing out to quick and rapid-fire gaming. But, that has changed for the country during these uncertain times. Thoroughbred racing is taking place when other sports have been sidelined. You can enjoy the sport or watch and wager on the racing action. –  Could a troublesome time for the country be a reprieve for the sport?  I doubt we’ll ever see that never-ending buffet for quite some time; if ever again. But, racing is moving forward. During this time I have watched the industry pull closer together at a socially safe distance. I hope we look back on this time as a moment that we endured and supported each other. We’re resilient people and we’ll be back. – What are ya’ waiting for? It’s almost post time!