Horse Racing Moving Towards The Backstretch While Major Sports Are Stuck In The Starting Gate

Major sports remain on hiatus through the COVID-19 pandemic, but the horses are healthy and running at more tracks. That includes this weekend as major venues Churchill Downs and Santa Anita reopen and provide bettors more wagering options with the rescheduled Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown races still ahead.

Is Horse Racing's Lead Going To Open The Gate For The Return Of Major Sports? 

Major sports were sent to the sidelines two months ago and the hiatus has continued as the COVID-19 health crisis attacks our communities. The sports we love to watch and wager on through online sportsbooks, casinos and mobile apps are stuck in the starting gate waiting for the leagues to provide an operating plan to get our sports running again in a live, competitive environment. When that time comes, the playbook is going to look a lot different as teams and organizations navigate ahead without fans in the stands. 

However, horse racing has loaded the starting gate and a handful of tracks are letting the horses run. More racetracks are phasing in this weekend including iconic Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, which was rescheduled and will run Sept. 5. That’s two days before Labor Day and five days before the scheduled NFL Week 1 kickoff on Thursday, Sept. 10. Another major track opening this weekend is Santa Anita Park, which just received live racing approval from Los Angeles County health officials.

Unfortunately, most classes across the California State University system will continue to be held online through the fall because of the spread of the coronavirus, Chancellor Tim White announced this week. That puts the start of the 2020 college football season in jeopardy, as league commissioners and N.C.A.A. President Mark Emmert have indicated recently that no classes on campus means no sports.

"If a school doesn't reopen, then they're not going to be playing sports. It's really that simple," Emmert said last week.

While daily racing may not be in front of fans at the tracks, and strict protocols are in place for health and safety measures, horse racing has at least broken from the starting gate and started running again after a majority of tracks were shut down by late March. Our equine athletes are providing an industry with employment, and the Sport of Kings is allowing fans a chance to connect and care about sport. And bet. 

Yesterday, Golden Gate Fields in the San Francisco Bay area and Charles Town Racing in West Virginia reopened. They joined Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs in Florida, and smaller tracks Fonner Park in Nebraska and Will Rogers Downs in Oklahoma as tracks offering 'spectator free' live racing. Oaklawn Park was running until its meet closed May 2nd following the Arkansas Derby, which generated plenty of interest and wagering as a major prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. The thirst for live Thoroughbred racing and wagering showed again yesterday at Charles Town. Thursday’s May 14 handle of $4.33 million was the fifth-highest mark in the history of Charles Town, and the highest ever for a non-Charles Town Classic card.

Bettors can wager on horse racing at selected leading online sportsbooks, including head-to-head horse matchups at BetOnline and from Santa Anita, Gulfstream, Tampa Bay and Churchill Downs. Also, you can watch and wager at major online horse racing platforms like TVG, a horse racing network that streams the races live from operating racetracks and partners with major TV networks like NBC and FOX to highlight the biggest races. That includes the recently added Road to the Kentucky Derby races with a modified summer schedule and more races to be added as New York tries to open Belmont Park and Saratoga in June and July. Lawmakers and the New York Racing Association (NYRA) are urging New York Governor Cuomo to let racing resume this summer at the two historic tracks.  

By then horse racing will have hit its stride and be approaching the quarter pole on the Road to the Kentucky Derby in September. Perhaps MLB will be in the batters box by then and a longshot of NBA and NHL playoffs will be scoring too. Sports fans and bettors may not be watching and wagering in their favorite race and sportsbooks, but bettors hope the games and online sports wagering action is just a click away when the NFL season kicks off in September. 

You can bet on it.   

FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay

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