As racing anticipates what will be the significant event of the 2020 Triple Crown season, featuring the NTRA’s third and fourth ranked three-year-olds, racetracks should not be tempted to use Oaklawn Park as the poster child for the resumption of racing in California, Kentucky and New York.
At least not until the track shows some urgency about Covid-19 health concerns for Oaklawn Park’s backstretch and community at large.
Many American sports fans, with nothing else to tune into late Saturday afternoon, will be shocked to see scenes from the confining saddling area where grooms, trainers, assistants and jockeys mill about waiting for horses to get tacked up paying ill regard to social distancing or the requirement to wear face masks.
If they have been paying attention, I didn’t see evidence of that on my TV screen this past Saturday or on other recent visits to the Oaklawn Park signal. Indeed, what is top level management there thinking?
The Arkansas Department of Health website advises that people “wear a face covering when out in public, especially when maintaining adequate social distancing is more challenging, such as at the grocery store.”
Or the saddling enclosure at the racetrack in Hot Springs.
“The State Board of Health is empowered to make all necessary and reasonable rules of a general nature for the protection of the public health and safety… for the suppression and prevention of infectious, contagious, and communicable diseases; for the proper enforcement of quarantine, isolation, and control of such diseases that may result in adverse health effects to the public.”
Further, it states that “the Department of Health is the state agency responsible for implementing the Board’s rules.”
I’m not sure who is dropping the ball on this, nor do I care to assess blame. I, too, live in a Red State, but the racetracks in my state get it.
Oaklawn Park is racing without fans, as are the four other Thoroughbred tracks in operation. Two of those are significant signals from Florida’s two racetracks, each of which has reported no positives. That might be the case at Oaklawn, too, and that would be welcome news.
But the optics, even for horse racing stakeholders and engaged fans and bettors who will be tuned into Oaklawn Park, are very disturbing and long-game counter-productive.
The general sports public, the audience that TVG talent is romancing the best it can in light of its newly formed association with NBC Sports, and racing’s critics, will be turned off by what they see, perhaps even outraged.
Admittedly, not all images emanating from Florida tracks have been pristine when it comes to wearing face masks but the majority does and social distancing is apparent. Additionally, the saddling areas at those tracks are open in either side so that air can be circulated from two directions.
At Oaklawn, one side of the saddling area is closed off by the doors that provide access and egress to pre-pandemic race fans.
“Protect your community. Protect yourself. Wear your face covering,” is the bottom line on the Arkansas Health Department website. Oaklawn needs to practice what their state health department preaches.
Arkansas Derby Split: Figuratively and Literally
Split into two divisions of 11 each and going as the 11th and 13th races, the Late Pick 4 makes a sandwich of the Grade 2 Oaklawn Park Handicap, the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on balance is the three-year-old event of 2020.
As expected, the Baffert horses have been installed as early line favorites. Charlatan, breaking from the rail in the two-turn mile and an eighth, was made the even money choice in division one. Nadal, like Charlatan, is undefeated and is the 5-2 early line favorite in division two.
Many regard the first division as the weaker of the two. We are taking a wait and see on that as the first division attracted three talented runners that didn’t fire their best shots last time out. And it’s not difficult to forgive those disappointing efforts.
Gouverneur Morris was a one-paced fourth in the G1 Florida Derby, his second start this season. The notion is that if divisional protem leader Tiz the Law were removed from the equation, the ‘Gouverneur’ only needed to find another length and a half to finish second.
We thought Todd Pletcher charge was a bit flat, understandable since the five-time Florida Derby-winning trainer didn’t employ a full court press to get him to the race but now the colt looks ready for best given the LAY-3 scenario. Johnny will pilot from post 4.
Although Anneau d’Or only has an impressive maiden victory on his resume, he was a fast-closing second in the BC Juvenile, his dirt debut, appeared to have Thousand Words measured but leveled out late, unable to wear down his rival, failing by a neck in the G2 Los Al Futurity.
Blaine Wright thought blinkers and Joel Rosario would make a difference in the G2 Louisiana Derby. Neither did the job and both are off here. Regular rider Juan Hernandez is back in the boot, he’s training well at his Golden Gate base so he rates to improve with blinkers removed, a 31% barn move.
Both of Basin’s route races this year have come on sloppy tracks. He had a rough trip and settled for third in G2 Rebel then was a even, dullish fourth in a B-stakes prep for this at Oaklawn April 11. The long range forecast for Saturday is partly sunny with no prediction of rain for the next four days.
Nadal (5-2) has more going for him than an undefeated slate. He retains Rosario, owns excellent speed, has passed an eyeball stretch battle, has five works since taking the Rebel, three of the bullet variety and, of greater significance, has been amenable to rating off his morning workmates.
Juvenile champion Storm the Court, as we all know, will need to raise his game, and he very well should in his third start of the year. Court Vision colt has trained very well in Arcadia, his first two starts looked like solid foundation makers, and he reunites with winning partner Flavien Prat.
The intrigue here is learning just how good Tampa Bay Derby wonder King Guillermo really is and, to a lesser degree, Wells Bayou who, after a win and and placing at Oaklawn, rebounded to win the Louisiana Derby by taking full advantage of a rare speed-favoring day in New Orleans.