By T. D. Thornton
The July 8-12 meet at Keeneland Race Course got a step closer to reality Wednesday morning when the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC)’s race dates committee unanimously recommended a calendar shift agreement between Keeneland and Ellis Park.
The full KHRC board still needs to approve the recommendation to make it official. But that vote is now considered a formality given that committee members passed the recommendation without any discussion, questions or opposition. The next scheduled KHRC meeting is June 16.
Bob Elliston, Keeneland’s vice president of racing and sales, told TDN after the meeting that the association has been working on a two-pronged approach to pandemic protocols that will start with spectator-free racing at the July race meet with the anticipation that Keeneland will be able to host on-site buyers and sellers at the September yearling sale.
“This is a situation where you can’t plan enough. You plan for the worst and hope for the best. Things are going well so far in Kentucky under these protocols, and we expect them to do so at Keeneland come July 8,” Elliston said.
“The good news is we’ve been working on this for a long time. We’ve been working in concert with [all the other Kentucky tracks] to develop a uniform set of protocols that could be applicable should any of us go racing,” Elliston said. “Churchill Downs had the first opportunity, and I can tell you our team has been up at Churchill Downs–properly socially distancing and wearing masks–to observe how those things are going.
“We continue to do similar type of planning for September. Just [Tuesday] we had a group from the Consignors and Commercial Breeders Association on site with our team. I’ll bet you we had 15 people–properly socially distanced, wearing masks–doing walk-throughs in our pavilion and barn area to start brainstorming the best protocols to conduct the sale. That level of dialogue is happening on a daily basis.
“And right now our inspection team is in the field,” Elliston continued. “They’re going daily to farms to look at the yearlings that have been entered, and we’re reviewing those horses under stringent protocols as it relates to biosecurity. So there’s lots going on. I’m getting ready right now to go into a meeting to talk about protocols as they relate to conduct of guest services and the movement of people on our property.”
The Wednesday-through-Sunday calendar shift in July is part of a compromise plan aimed at allowing Keeneland to regain some of the 17 dates it lost when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the track’s traditional spring meet.
Ellis Park will retain simulcasting host status while Keeneland runs those five spectator-free July dates.
“I have talked to all parties, which would include Ellis Park, Keeneland, Kentucky HBPA and KTA,” said KHRC executive director Marc Guilfoil in briefing commissioners prior to the vote. “They have all signed off on this agreement, and staff recommends approval.”
Keeneland’s president and chief executive, Bill Thomason, said in a press release that “Keeneland appreciates the quick response of the Commission to our request, and we applaud all their work on behalf of Kentucky racing during these unprecedented times. We also thank Ellis Park for their cooperation in this process and for making these non-traditional dates available to Keeneland. We look forward to sharing more details about the summer meet in the coming weeks.”
Ellis Park general manager Jeffrey Inman said in the same press release that “We are all in this together, and Ellis Park is pleased to work with Keeneland on a plan that benefits our horsemen and Kentucky racing.”