By T. D. Thornton
The Ohio State Racing Commission (OSRC) issued a directive effective Mar. 31 mandating that Thoroughbred and Standardbred tracks remain closed for live racing through Apr. 30 while stipulating that backstretch facilities at venues where meets were already in progress have to stay “open and operational until further notice.”
At this time of year, Mahoning Valley Race Course is the only Thoroughbred track open in Ohio. Live racing was last held there Mar. 18.
The OSRC’s directive was issued on the heels of horsemen at Mahoning Valley receiving notice from track management on Monday that all horses and humans had to be off the premises by Apr. 7 at midnight in an effort to clear out the backstretch as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dave Basler, the executive director for the Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said there are currently 805 horses at Mahoning Valley, with 95 workers living there in backstretch dormitories.
“We have been in discussions with both the racing commission and our track partners on how we get through this thing,” Basler said. “The directive both gives some guidance on when racing may or may not start again, and some comfort on making sure that these horses and our horsemen and their employees are adequately looked after.”
According to the OSRC directive, the intent of the order is to “1) Prevent horse abuse/abandonment; 2) Allow for consolidated feed operations; 3) Prevent homelessness for those who temporarily/seasonally reside on the backside; 4) Provide adequate exercise for horses on property needed to prevent injury potentially caused by confinement “
The state’s two other Thoroughbred venues are not yet open for stabling, Basler said. The Mahoning Valley meet was supposed to run through Apr. 18. Belterra Park had been scheduled to open on Apr. 24; Thistledown on Apr. 27.
“I’ve had preliminary discussions with both of those tracks, but with this situation changing day to day, it’s too early to determine where we’re going to go with either of those spots,” Basler said. “Right now we’re just trying to make sure that we take care of our guys until those decisions can be made. Obviously, neither managements at the racetracks nor the horsemen’s organizations are going to be the ones making [decisions about live racing resuming]. Those are going to be made at the government level, not at the racetrack level.”
The directive further ordered that “It is incumbent on the horsemen organizations in the State of Ohio and the racing permit holders operating as Racinos in the State of Ohio to submit a 30-day and a 60-day plan to comply with this directive (including financials) to the OSRC not later than midnight April 2.”
Basler said his organization is actively moving forward with additional forms of relief for horsemen.
“The HBPA has already set aside some funds for the backstretch food bank,” Basler said. “I have a conference call with my board [Wednesday] where I anticipate we’ll set aside some additional funds for that food bank to make sure people on the backstretch don’t go hungry. We are also going to examine potentially providing some feed for the horses. Those discussions haven’t been finalized yet, but we’ve made some calls that might get our guys some relief.”