By Bill Finley
After originally floating plans that would have required any jockey intending to ride during the Sept. 1-5 meet that includes the GI Kentucky Derby to arrive in Kentucky by Aug. 24, Churchill Downs is now requiring that all jockeys be in the state by Aug. 31. The details were in a document distributed by Churchill officials to the Jockeys’ Guild late Thursday.
Many jockeys, particularly those who ride regularly in New York and California, were on the fence about riding in the Derby as, under the Aug. 24 guidelines, it would have meant missing the final two weeks at Del Mar and Saratoga and a number of major races. The new deadline makes the decision easier and could pave the way for many top jockeys to choose to ride in the Churchill races as they no longer have to give up mounts at their home tracks over the weekend of Aug. 29 and 30.
For jockeys who regularly ride outside of Kentucky, it is still not clear what will be required of them in order to resume riding in their home states once the Derby is over. Kentucky is on a travel ban list in New York. Anyone traveling to that state must quarantine for 14 days once returning to New York.
In order to ride at Churchill during the week, a jockey must declare his or her intentions to do so by Aug. 18 and contact Churchill officials by email. In addition, an out-of-state rider must have what Churchill describes as a “CDC gold standard RT-PCR COVID-19 nasopharyngeal test” performed on Aug. 24. That will be one of three COVID-19 tests the jockey will be required to take in order to ride during Derby week. The jockeys will be required to be at Churchill on Aug. 31 for a second round of testing. Another set of tests will be administered Sept. 3.
“They brought in the Department of Health and when you bring in the Department of Health how can you second-guess them?” said Jockeys’ Guild President Terry Meyocks. “They are trying to make it safe for the riders and, at the same time, do what is in the best interests of racing. I think under the circumstances they have come up with a plan they think will work and we are comfortable with that.”
Once the Aug. 31 test has been administered, jockeys will not be allowed to leave the state until after they have completed their riding obligations for the week.
When at the track, jockeys will be required to wear face coverings at all times, except during the running of a race. Jockeys will also be asked to practice social distancing and refrain from congregating in groups. The main jockeys’ room will be restricted to riders that had been competing at Ellis Park. The out-of-state jockeys will be stationed in auxiliary quarters.