On this week's episode of the TDN Writers' Room podcast presented by Keeneland, the writers were joined by Oaklawn Park owner and president Louis Cella to discuss the challenges and logistics of running a race meet in the coronavirus era. Oaklawn, along with Gulfstream and Tampa, have led the way for major tracks continuing operations uninterrupted through the pandemic, and Cella, as the Green Group Guest of the Week, talked about the advice they can impart as other ones start to reopen.
“Some of the details that we've shared with other tracks: we take the temperature of every single person every single day,” he said of a system that Churchill Downs has now also adopted for its backstretch. “That's over 900 people from Mar. 15 on, and we have color-coded bands. So today is yellow, tomorrow might be green, and if you're not wearing the right color, you step aside immediately. We have our trainers going into their barns temping also every single day. So it's been truly a group effort and we're very fortunate that we were able to pull this off, and I hope the other tracks will as well.”
Cella also talked about the difficulty of running a racetrack without casino revenues, something other tracks will have to contend with as they reopen before casinos are able to.
“We cannot have the purses that we have at $600,000 a day if we do not have that casino alternative revenue source,” he said. “The spigot turned off on Mar. 15. So we reduced our purses by 35% in anticipation of trying to make the numbers work. Our horsemen agreed. Our commission agreed. And that's why we were able to give away just a freckle under $30 million, which is extraordinary given the circumstances.”
Elsewhere on the show, in the West Point News of the Week, the crew debated the reasoning for and implications of The Jockey Club's new 140-mare cap for stallions, looked forward to the return of racing to Kentucky and California, and called for more transparency in the reporting of workouts. Click here to listen to the podcast, and click here to watch it on Vimeo.