For all its faults involving integrity, security, transparency and a badly outdated business model, Thoroughbred racing and its horsemen are conducting themselves a lot more wisely than federal and many state governments franchised to protect its citizens.
While some tracks have set a schedule to reopen spectator-less when it’s safe to do so, the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, an organization with which we are often at odds, has released comprehensive guidelines for living and doing business in the COVID era.
Back in the real world, the Governor of my state of Florida, gave permission to reopen certain beaches on Saturday, some of the same beaches that remained open so college students from all over country could enjoy a little fun in the sun before introducing the virus upon their return home.
Jammed together awaiting the starting gun at 5 pm, most not social distancing nor wearing masks, many carried signs protesting shelter-in-place restrictions because they think enough is enough; it’s time to have fun. Who cares about the lives of what the majority of the country wants?
Thus far, three-quarters of a million people have tested positive for the virus and over 30,000 have died, numbers that grow with every news cycle. But these “protesters” believed the restrictions did not apply to them, that government was overstepping, trampling their constitutional rights.
A former racing colleague in upstate New York, Nick Kling, recently sent me a sagacious observation from the great scientific mind of Isaac Asimov who, in 1980, wrote on the subject of wrong-headed thinking. To wit:
“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge’.”
I would argue not when it comes to matters of life and death.
Anyone who took advantage of the permission granted by a cowering Governor without benefit of testing or protective covering put the lives of first responders, service personnel–and even their own families–at risk.
It’s a happy coincidence when an organization that represents people who dedicate their lives in service to animals in need of feeding and care, instructs the community in thoughtful, progressive fashion.
Racetrackers live a bigger picture, that caring for other living creatures is more than a living, it’s noble work.
On balance, backstretch workers are maintaining safety protocols as proscribed by the scientists. But those who might have been a little cavalier about it–especially with respect to face coverings–will no longer be allowed to do so. The following are most of the NHBPA guidelines, edited for context:
*Designate, set aside and secure a safe area for quarantine, if needed.
*Incoming van drivers must wear a suitable face covering over nose and mouth and must wear gloves when entering to pick up or drop off horses.
*Must have minimal contact with any stable personnel.
*All pony personnel must wear suitable covering when in contact with jockeys while mounted.
*Gate crew personnel must wear a suitable covering (a mask, scarf, or bandana) over their nose and mouth and wear gloves while loading horses in the starting gate and will have no physical contact with any other personnel unless in the best interest of safety.
*Adhere to suggested Cleaning and Hygiene Protocols
*Increase frequency of cleaning/disinfection of all high-risk surfaces (stable equipment, tack boxes, handles, elevator buttons, handrails, countertops, etc.) and all high-traffic areas.
*The working gate crew shall disinfect the starting gate every morning before training, during breaks, after training, and between every race.
*Establish designated personnel to disinfect the paddock and saddling area every morning before training, during breaks, after training, and between every race.
*Shipping companies’ van drivers should disinfect vans and trailers between each and every trip.
*Restricted Access Protocols: The racetrack, track apron, and paddock access will be limited to commissioned licensed trainers and essential personnel who have horses running that day.
*No owners, media, or fans will be allowed on the track in order to limit outside exposure. No guests, with no exceptions.
*No assembling of any personnel in any area, and all personnel should practice social distancing. • The walking ring must be closed to everyone other than licensed personnel who are required to accompany their horse to and from the saddling barn or racetrack.
*Jockeys will get on their horses as soon as possible and proceed directly to the racetrack for the post parade and warm-up.
*A security access log should be maintained by a member of the security team to register who accessed the apron on a specific day.
*Access to the Jockeys’ Room and Jockeys’ Room Restricted Protocols. The Jockeys’ Guild should be consulted for organizational established protocols.
*Only essential personnel licensed by the state and jockeys scheduled to ride in races will be allowed access to the jockeys’ room.
*All jockeys and essential personnel in the jockeys’ room (including valets and the clerk of the scales) will have their temperatures monitored daily. Anyone showing any signs of illness must be denied access to the premises.
*Lockers and workstations will be spaced a minimum of the required six feet apart.
*All jockeys will be required to wear riding gloves and prohibited from any physical contact between themselves and others.
*Jockeys are required to leave the jockeys’ room immediately following their last ride.
*All sauna and extraneous facilities must be closed. Showers may remain open but will be sanitized frequently throughout the day.
*Jockeys should be encouraged to limit travel, and a 14-day mandatory self-quarantine is in effect for all jockeys and personnel who have traveled internationally.
*Establish a staff directory of all contacts for key personnel that can be accessed with cell phone numbers and emails.
*Establish a list of all on-track and nearby off-track medical facilities.
*Essential personnel may include racing officials as designated by the state, safety staff (ambulance drivers, track maintenance crew,) outriders, pony crew, starting-gate operators, and specialized janitorial staff to sanitize the facility.
*Nonessential personnel are prohibited on the grounds.
*The stable cafeteria may remain open to serve essential personnel while following all state, local, and CDC guidelines and restrictions, including patrons carrying out their food.
*Establish a health check station(s) where temperatures, symptoms, and names can be logged before being permitted access to the stable area.
*There must be multiple health check stations at every accessible access gate/entry for the stable area.
*Establish a color-coded wristband system with a different color representing each day of the week. A colored band must be applied at the health check station and must be worn for the entirety of the day.
In addition to video conferencing out west, Chairman and CEO Belinda Stronach penned an open letter to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health requesting a return to spectator-less racing at Santa Anita Park.
Stronach’s proposal emphasized that Santa Anita is self-contained and that management is willing to relocate jockeys, gate crew workers and racing officials to on-site housing—whatever it takes to avoid the potential loss of 750 backstretch jobs.
Santa Anita has hired an infectious disease doctor to speak with County medical professionals and are prepared to find workable solutions to any issue the authorities might have with reopening as soon as it is reasonably safe to do so.
It should be noted that while this dialogue continues, the LA Health Department extended the order that will keep beaches closed until May 15, the difference between forward-thinking action and feckless political expediency that not only can reverse any progress made but see the virus return with a vengeance.