As the overseer of two of the biggest tracks still running races in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, The Stronach Group’s CEO Craig Fravel has a lot of responsibility right now. As Saturday’s GI Curlin Florida Derby at Gulfstream nears and the GI Santa Anita Derby follows next weekend, Fravel stopped by the TDN Writers’ Room podcast presented by Keeneland to talk with Bill Finley about this tumultuous time.
“Things seem to change on an hourly basis,” Fravel said. “I think I was in Florida a week and a half ago when some of the first governmental orders started coming out, and things have changed literally hour by hour, day by day on those things. So I can’t make any longterm predictions any more than anyone else can. I think we’re all learning more about the situation. We’re learning how to implement best practices and trying to do those consistently across our properties. We’re obviously very concerned for the workers.”
Fravel went on to make a similar point about why Gulfstream is staying open that other racetrack officials have made: hundreds of horses that need to be attended to. He also said that Gulfstream is operating with as few workers as possible to keep races going while trying to contain the spread of COVID-19.
“We have horses that need to be taken care of. They can’t simply be left in their stalls 24 hours a day for lengths of time on end,” he said. “And the fact of the matter is when we do race, it’s with a skeletal crew to say the least. I mean we have no nonessential personnel. We maintain extraordinary social distancing practices. And our people, to the extent there are people there, they’re spread out over expanses of property so that we don’t have aggregations of people in one place.”
As for Santa Anita, it seemed as though the track would have to be closed according to Governor Gavin Newsom’s sweeping stay-at-home order. But somewhat surprisingly, the track announced last Friday that it would continue racing. Finley asked Fravel how The Stronach Group managed to keep the Arcadia oval open.
“Governors and their staffs at this point have huge issues to deal with. In governor Newsom’s case, 40 million people,” Fravel said. “So it’s not like I would be going and calling the governor, sitting down and talking to him. We worked through channels with the California Horse Racing Board, made many of the points I made to you earlier and made sure that we were very carefully articulating our rationale. And that’s how we went about things.”
While Gulfstream is scheduled to end its meet after this weekend no matter what, Santa Anita is slated to continue racing through June. Fravel was careful not to make any guarantees about how long the track would be able to continue operating.
“To be honest with you, as I said, everything changes day to day and things could continue to change. So there’s no assurance of any sort that [racing going on] will continue to be the case. But that’s where we are right now. I don’t want to make predictions about when and if things could happen. We’re just trying to make sure that we’re doing what we’re saying we’re doing in terms of being responsible, having really advanced and understandable protocols and making sure that people and horses are well looked after.”
Elsewhere on this week’s episode, the writers discuss the possibilities of horses falling through the cracks if the crisis and economic downturn persist for months, and in the news of the week sponsored by West Point Thoroughbreds, preview the Florida Derby, potentially one of the last major 3-year-old races for a while. Click here to listen to the podcast.