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Spring Meet kicks off at Churchill Downs

Fans won't be allowed in the stands, and only trainers and other essential personnel will be allowed at the track.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — It's the day horses, trainers and fans have been waiting for since mid-March. Saturday morning, horse racing started back up at Churchill Downs with Opening Day of the Spring Meet.

While the track is finally seeing some action, things will still look a little different at Churchill Downs. Stands that are normally full of fans will sit empty on opening weekend. Only essential people will be allowed into the track.

That includes trainers and people responsible for caring for the horses.

“We wanted to do this in a very responsible way,” Churchill Downs President Kevin Flanery said.

Everyone who enters has to first get tested for COVID-19. After that initial test, they have to have their temperatures taken and answer some questions whenever they reenter the facility.

“I’m disappointed we’re not going to have fans, but I certainly feel like right now we’re doing all the right things,” trainer Tom Amoss said.

Credit: AP
FILE - In this May 7, 2020 file photo the sun rises over the track at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Horse racing is in a state of transition at a time usually reserved for Triple Crown season. The Preakness would have been run Saturday, May 16, 2020 in Baltimore. But Pimlico Race Course and many tracks across North America remain dark because of the coronavirus pandemic. There is some light at the end of the tunnel as tracks including Churchill Downs in Kentucky are getting back to live racing without fans. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, file)

Even when races stopped, the training didn’t. The horses were ready to run this weekend, this time in a more controlled environment.

“We work a lot with the horses getting them used to big crowds, but we’re not going to have to do that at least initially here for the meet,” Amoss said.

Amoss believes that could be a silver lining to not having fans. The horses can just run, without things like crowds or noise as factors.

The crowds were at home, watching the races on TV rather than in the stands. Fox Sports 1 or Fox Sports 2 will air all the races in the Spring Meet.

Horse racing is one of the only sports that has started up again, giving sports fans something to look forward to.

“Not a lot is going on, there’s not a lot of content out there for folks and I think folks are starved for content,” Flanery said. “So I think this is a great opportunity for those who love the game to be involved but maybe to introduce some new fans.”

Restarting racing not only gives fans something to watch but also gets people in the industry back to work.

“It keeps the whole business going. From the sales to racing, and hopefully gives some other states the opportunity to see that it can be done and they’ll open up and we’ll have racing again throughout the country in the near future,” trainer Brad Cox said.


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