By Bill Finley
Churchill Downs may require all jockeys riding during the short meet surrounding the GI Kentucky Derby to be in the state of Kentucky by Aug. 24. Churchill Downs Senior Director, Communication & Media Services Darren Rogers said the rule is being considered but no official decision will be announced until later in week.
Rogers added that Churchill is also expected to announce shortly a complete list of protocols that will be in place for the Derby, including how many fans will be allowed to attend the race.
For jockeys who regularly ride in New York and in California, meeting the Kentucky requirements would mean missing the final two weeks at Saratoga and Del Mar. Once returning to their home base they would likely have to undergo another quarantine period before being allowed to ride again. In New York, anyone traveling to a number of states, Kentucky among them, must go into quarantine for 14 days upon returning to the state.
Anticipating that his rider will be required to be in Kentucky by the 24th and under quarantine, agent Angel Cordero, Jr. said that Manny Franco will not be giving up the mount on possible Derby favorite Tiz the Law (Constitution).
“We have to go,” Cordero said. “You don't just find horses like this one. It's going to be tough for all the jockeys because they're going to have to spend two weeks without riding and then have to ride in an important race like that.”
Cordero said he was hoping that riders would be allowed in on the eve of the race if they could provide evidence that they did not have the coronavirus.
“I don't know why they just don't test them and if they test clean they should let them ride,” he said. “We will be missing the last part of Saratoga and then maybe another two weeks after that. All together, we'll miss about a month. I know everyone is dealing with the same problem, but I'm a believer that if you test clean, they should let them ride. Why don't they test them three days before the Derby or one day before the Derby and if they don't test clean just take them off the horses.”
Mike Smith, who rides top GI Kentucky Oaks contender Swiss Skydiver (Daredevil) and has been riding top Derby candidates Honor A.P. (Honor Code) and Authentic (Into Mischief) said he's not sure what he is going to do.
“I just don't know what to do,” he said. “What they're asking us to do seems very difficult to do. You're going to have to be there 10 days out. I'd rather be somewhere where I feel safer and just fly in, test and ride. This way, I think you have more of a chance of picking it up, being outside of your house and having to go out to eat. I'm not saying I won't be riding at Churchill. It's just that this is going to be really difficult.”
Bob Baffert, who trains a number of Derby contenders, including Authentic, said he also hopes Churchill will come up with another way of dealing with out-of-town riders. Baffert took part in a virtual town hall meeting Monday with horsemen in which Churchill Downs President Kevin Flannery discussed the potential rules the track is considering for Derby week.
“I hope they are still working on this and just threw this out there,” he said. “To me, they're playing with fire bringing them in there 10 days before. That gives them a chance to get sick. Let them come in like Monmouth Park did for the Haskell. They went to a place there and got tested and within 15 minutes they got their results. It seems to me that they should let them come in, test them, let them ride and then let them get out of there. That is as long as they come in there with a negative test. I told Kevin Flannery that this was a bad idea. If they wanted to do all this they should have just run the race in May.”
Baffert said he had yet to discuss Derby week plans with any of the jockeys who might ordinarily be riding in Kentucky for him.
Ron Anderson, the agent for John Velazquez and Joel Rosario, said Monday he wasn't sure what his riders would do.
“Churchill Downs can do what they want to do,” Anderson said. “I don't think it is a proper decision, but it's their ball game. We will have to play the cards we are dealt. How many days would they have to sit out when coming back? I don't know how to weigh any of this. I have multiple decisions to make on behalf of both of my jockeys. Right now, I have no idea what to do. This is a huge predicament for everybody.”
During the meeting with trainers, Flannery discussed several other protocols the track is considering, among them allowing only two owners per Derby horse to come on the backstretch. Under the proposal, jockeys riding Derby week must take at least two coronavirus tests before being allowed to ride, one on Aug. 24 and another on Aug. 31 A rider who tests positive during the first phase would be required to quarantine for 10 days, which would still allow them to rode in the Derby and/or the GI Kentucky Oaks.
A jockey coming into Kentucky to ride for the Churchill September meet might be inclined to stay. Returning to their home base would also likely require an additional quarantine period, while staying in Kentucky would allow them to ride uninterrupted at Kentucky Downs, the fall meet at Churchill and then the Breeders' Cup, which will be held Nov. 6 and 7 at Keeneland.