With Lone Star Park announcing that it will open its stable area May 4 and with Texas Governor Greg Abbott going ahead with aggressive plans to re-open the state's businesses, Texas horsemen have said they are confident that racing will resume shortly at Lone Star Park. And there may even be fans in the stands to greet racing's return.
There has been no racing in Texas since Mar. 28, when Sam Houston ended its meet ahead of schedule. The Lone Star meet was set to begin Apr. 16, but the track was forced to close because of the coronavirus. The first sign that racing could resume within the next few weeks came Tuesday when Lone Star made the announcement that it was ready to open its stable area.
“Everyone is feeling a lot more certain that we are on the right path to racing again,” said Mary Ruyle, the executive director of the Texas Thoroughbred Association. “Using proper safety protocols, we think we can begin live racing before the end of May with no spectators and then adding a limited number of spectators and go from there.”
Lone Star Park President and General Manager Scott Wells sent a statement to the TDN, which, read, in part: “We will continue to monitor the situation closely and will provide updates on additional new procedures and restrictions as well as our intended opening in the coming days and weeks.”
Wells sent out a statement to horsemen earlier this week that said face masks will be required for all people in common areas of the stabling area and that social distancing guidelines would have to be followed at all times. The racing secretary's office will be closed to non-racing officials and all correspondence would have to be conducted over the phone.
Lone Star cannot re-open until getting the go-ahead from the proper state officials, but there doesn't appear to be anything that would prevent that from happening as Abbott has made it clear that he wants his state to be open for business again. He has put together a strike force made up of state lawmakers, state health officials and business leaders that will advise him as to when to allow businesses to re-open. According to Marsha Rountree, the controller and executive director of the Texas Horsemen's Partnership, Lone Star has submitted documents to the strike force covering its plan to begin racing again. Rountree hopes that approval from the strike force was all Lone Star needed to be able to begin racing, but she said she's not sure what the procedure will be.
“This is unchartered territory right now and I don't think anyone knows for sure,” she said when asked who has the responsibility of deciding if racing can start again. “Governor Abbott has put together a strike force of business leaders and health care professionals and other leaders in the state to look at how we are going to map this out. Lone Star Park submitted an application to the governor's office last week putting forth their strategy for opening, with all the precautions they will be taking. I believe the strike force will be the ones to decide whether or not Lone Star can run.”
Though no one has targeted a date for re-opening, Rountree thought June 1 was a realistic goal.
“We're ready to begin racing,” she said. “We've been off for almost six weeks and our horsemen are anxious and ready to go.”
Abbott has announced that the opening of Texas businesses will take place in stages, the first of which will begin Friday. In Phase I, retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls have been allowed to open, but venues will be limited to 25 percent capacity. Phase II is set to begin May 18 and under that plan businesses will be permitted to operate at 50 percent of their capacity.
“Now it's time to set a new course, a course that responsibly opens up business in Texas,” Abbott said Tuesday. “Just as we united as one state to slow COVID-19, we must also come together to begin rebuilding the lives and the livelihoods of our fellow Texans.”
Most of the tracks that are attempting to re-open have said the plan is to offer racing without spectators in the stands. That could turn out to be the case in Texas, but Rountree and others have looked at Abbott's guidelines and believe Lone Star could open its gates to fans.
“May 18 is the beginning of the second phase and they are talking about opening businesses but limiting their capacity to 50% capacity,” Rountree said. “If that is the case we are hopeful we can open our grandstand with spectators. It would be in limited numbers but we could have actual fans come and watch our athletes run.”
On-track wagering is of added importance in Texas because the state does not allow residents to have ADW accounts.