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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


As has been widely reported in racing’s mainstream media, out-of-state jockeys riding on Kentucky Derby weekend SEP 4 and 5 must arrive in Kentucky by AUG 24, approximately 11 days in advance of Oaks and Derby.

Kentucky officials have a right–an obligation, really–to impose whatever safety protocols are called for, standards that also will necessarily have an impact on the general population at large.

Our politics are progressive, but when it comes to the treating and containment of the Covid-19 outbreak, we are strictly conservative on how to best to treat and contain the scourge. Above all, when humanly possible, do no harm.

According to regulations proposed by CDI–a work in progress according to track president Kevin Flannery –any jockey with riding in the Derby and/or Oaks must arrive in Kentucky by AUG 24.

Jockeys must pass a Covid-19 test by 6 pm on day of arrival. Further, they must pass a second test by noon, AUG 31. Derby Week racing begins the next day, SEP 1.

And this is where things get muddled, based on phone conversations had with New York and Saratoga-based horsemen familiar with Churchill Downs, one with a horse scheduled to run in America’s most famous race.

Rumors began about two weeks ago when a jockey agent posted on Twitter it was Churchill’s intention that all Derby participants, from the connections to the horse itself, be in Kentucky 14 days in advance of the Derby.

Presently, any jockey who tests positive will be required to quarantine for 10 days which, upon passing, allows them to ride on Derby day. Otherwise, as in New York, the room and riding opportunities will be limited to Kentucky-based riders.

At last count, 10 days is less than the 14 days required by many states. The question is if an out-of-stater tests negative on AUG 24, will he be allowed to make the 128-mile drive to ride at Ellis Park in Henderson? How does that square with quarantine?

New York reportedly has had success with its protocols, closing the Saratoga jock’s room to all out of state riders with mask and distancing mandates in place. All gaining admission must have passed a Covid test and are temperature-checked at the gate.

But the system is far from foolproof. Many trainers racing in Saratoga have remained at their Belmont Park base for various concerns, shipping in via van. But on dark days, those trainers return to their downstate barns.

Once trainers test negative, all horsemen have a sticker placed on their credentials, but re-testing is not required even though they are living in disparate areas in the same week. There have been other inconsistencies along those lines.

After saddling Volatile to victory in the G1 Vanderbilt Stakes at Saratoga July 25, Steve Asmussen was in Kentucky the next day to check on his horses there and flew to Texas the day after Monday to watch his son ride his first winner. On Thursday, he was back in Saratoga.

Have sticker, will travel.

Horses shipping to the Spa are not allowed to be housed in private barns occupied by trainers with allotted stalls. Those animals and their caretakers are quarantined in the stakes barn, usually arriving several days in advance of a race.

Neither of our sources can confirm or deny whether there have been positive cases surface at or during the Saratoga race meet, upstate or downstate.

Churchill track president Kevin Flanery said the rule regarding jockeys is still under consideration in conference call with horsemen Monday afternoon. An official announcement of guidelines will be made early next week, likely next Monday.

Clearly, out of state jockeys will miss some racing leading up to Derby weekend. They could also miss more time depending on quarantine guidelines when they return home.

Unlike mega-millions of Americans, they still have jobs and, if they do well, are rewarded handsomely–unlike mega-millions of their countrymen and women.

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10 Responses

  1. Kentucky protocols seems a big excessive for out of state jockeys. I agree, safety and health are first priority but some kind of compromise should take place to ensure you have the jockey you want on your horse without him having to be in Kentucky by Aug 24th.

  2. And if you then can ride in Henderson then come back, doesn’t seem to make sense.

    A compromise might be that if there are only 3% to 5% positives in the area/state you come from–probably what the Spa numbers are–you can get tested, temperature, et al–and arrive a few days later.

    I’m sure those guys will have little problem getting mounts early in Derby week. THere probalby would be more than enough riders at the Spa to carry the day…

  3. JP–
    Rumor has it that there have been a handful of COVID positives on the Saratoga backstretch, but it has been kept quiet for fear that Cuomo would close down racing. Who knows what is really going on–even Cuomo won’t give out the total number of COVID deaths in State’s nursing homes…..
    Chuck from Saratoga

  4. Chuck, nothing would surprise me, probably going on everywhere. Have any idea of percentage of cases in the town itself?

  5. JP–
    There are currently 12 active COVID cases in Saratoga Springs and only 6 hospitalizations in the entire county. There is a 1.5% positive testing rate for the county. Saratoga Springs has had 1 COVID related death in 2020.
    Chuck from Saratoga

    1. One death, as the saying goes, is too many but outstanding numbers overall, and that’s not the least bit surprising. I sure do miss the place but not the winters, of course.

      And something else, while he’s far from perfect, I’ll swap Governors with you in a heartbeat!

      1. I’ll second your comment on Saratoga and raise you one. As much as I miss attending The Old Spa meet this year, there’s no way that I’ll be carrying the Covid or any other illness from NJ into my favorite racetrack or that incredibly fine town of Saratoga Springs.

        Would I trade Governor DeSantis for Governor Cuomo ??? That depends. I would be thrilled to do so, if I lived in New York.

  6. Well, you don’t live in Florida. You have a Republican Governor who has done a good job from what I’ve seen approve of the job he’s doing. Guess you’re unaware of how bad a shape my state’s in. As hard as this might be for you to believe, I do not allow party, any party, to color my judgment.

    Richard, wish you could have stopped with the good sense and generosity expressed re Saratoga.

    1. New Jersey Governor, Phil Murphy, is a Democrat. Actually, Gov. Murphy’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic has exceeded my expectations.

      I wish that circumstances were different in Florida. The risks were well-known by the time your state was hit with a huge outbreak. The citizens and visitors in FL needed to follow established protocol and elected not do so.

      Your opinion about swapping Governors was simply greeted by my opposing viewpoint.

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