Legendary horse trainer Bob Baffert has made many headlines regarding his sport’s signature race in the past. He did so again on Saturday, but his remarks had nothing to do with his two horses that ran during the day. Rather, he shed light on how the COVID-19 pandemic might impact the 146th running of the Kentucky Derby,
The trainer who has seen five of his horses wear the prestigious garland of roses awarded to the winner of the annual race at Churchill Downs spoke to reporters after one of his contenders for this year’s race, Charlatan, romped, winning a one-mile allowance claiming race by 10-1/4 lengths Saturday at Santa Anita.
That race came just moments after another of his Derby hopefuls, Nadal, looked impressive in the Grade II Rebel. Nadal went wire-to-wire on a sloppy track at Oaklawn Racing and Gaming despite posting some fast fractional times early in the race. Baffert even has another horse, Authentic, that finished last week as the favorite in the most recent Kentucky Derby futures betting pool.
Baffert watched Charlatan run in-person at Santa Anita, which like other major tracks in the US held races without spectators due to concerns over the coronavirus. He was asked what was next for Charlatan.
We don’t know if we’ll run here in the Santa Anita Derby,” Baffert said, referring to the April 4 Kentucky Derby prep. “Because nobody’s really sure when anything is going to happen. Churchill is saying they’re not going to run the Derby without the people there, so I’m hearing maybe June or in September…Whenever they cancel the Masters (in April at Augusta National in Georgia), that’s like the Derby…I’ve never seen anything like this, it’s kinda scary. Hopefully they can get everything under control.”
Held annually on the first Saturday in May since 1875, this year’s Kentucky Derby is scheduled for May 2. It serves as the first race of the prestigious Triple Crown. The Preakness Stakes at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course is scheduled to run two weeks later, and the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in New York is slated for June 6.
The Kentucky Derby is the oldest continuously held major sporting event in the United States.
It’s also one of the largest betting events in the US. Last year, $165.5 million was wagered on the race.
Churchill Downs May Offer Update Soon
The coronavirus and its possible impact on the Kentucky Derby have been on the minds of officials at Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI) for several weeks at least.
During the company’s quarterly earnings call with stock analysts last month, CDI CEO Bill Carstanjen said his company had “a lot of time” to see what other major sporting event organizers were doing in regards to the COVID-19 coronavirus.
This past week, when the company announced Turfway Park would run fan-free for the rest of its meet, it also announced that plans for the May 2 race were “still moving forward.” However, it also noted that the historic race could be moved as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, although a decision would not be made until closer to the race.
On Saturday, hours before Baffert’s remarks, the company made another announcement that said company representatives have been working closely with health experts to make “the most responsible decision” regarding an event that draws upwards of 150,000 people annually. And that doesn’t include similar-sized crowds for the Kentucky Oaks, held at the track on the Friday before Derby, and other festivities held in Louisville in the weeks prior to celebrate the city’s signature sporting event.
“This is not a decision we take lightly and we expect to have an update about the Kentucky Derby and additional information on our upcoming Spring Meet in the coming week,” the company said.
Other Sporting Leagues, Events in Limbo
Baffert’s comments come as other sporting leagues and events in the US have been halted as the nation tries to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The NCAA announced it would not only cancel its upcoming college basketball tournaments and other postseason events for winter sports but also cancel all spring sporting activities as well.
US professional sporting leagues, including the NBA, NHL and MLS, have suspended their seasons indefinitely. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver saying his league’s shutdown will last at least 30 days. Baseball suspended spring training and the MLB season, set to start later this month, will assuredly be delayed and possibly shortened.
The Masters, the first major of the PGA Tour, was slated to start April 9, but officials at Augusta National announced Friday it will be postponed.