Del Mar to race earlier in July without fans

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DEL MAR, Calif. — Del Mar will open its summer racing season on July 10 without fans in attendance and follow safety protocols to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club said it will race on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays pending the approval of the California Horse Racing Board at its June 11 meeting.

The meet was originally scheduled to open July 18. Del Mar officials say that because the San Diego Fair was canceled this year, it has allowed racing surfaces to be prepared earlier and horses will be able to be on-track sooner. The fairgrounds and racetrack are on adjoining seaside property north of San Diego.

Del Mar CEO Joe Harper says the meet is “going to look different, it’s going to feel different, but it’s going to be first-class horse racing at Del Mar and in these unusual times that’s something to look forward to.”

Racing at Santa Anita in Arcadia is scheduled to end June 21. Los Alamitos in Orange County will run a thoroughbred meet June 26-July 5. Both tracks are operating live racing without fans and with only essential personnel under COVID-19 protocols.

Wagering on Del Mar’s races will continue remotely via online platforms and at off-track locations nationwide. In 2019, 90% of wagering on Del Mar’s races occurred off-track.

Horse racing returns in New Zealand as lockdown eases

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s financially troubled horse racing industry reopened Thursday after being shuttered for months because of the coronavirus outbreak, leading the return of organized sports as the nation moves toward normality.

A harness racing meeting which took place without fans at the Addington racecourse at Christchurch was the first since New Zealand went into strict lockdown on March 24.

Greyhound racing, which has a much smaller following than harness or gallops racing, was able to resume live racing earlier this month because it was more easily able to follow social distancing guidelines. Thoroughbred racing is due to resume on July 3.

Harness racing is the most popular form of racing on New Zealand’s South Island and a major employer. The Christchurch event offered some hope that the return of race meetings under New Zealand’s easing lockdown regulations will allow the industry to weather turbulent financial times.

Horse racing was already under severe financial pressure in New Zealand when the coronavirus struck.

The pandemic has already led to substantial job losses in the racing industry and betting income has plunged while race meetings in New Zealand have been suspended.

Trainers have kept horses in work during the almost two-month shutdown and the demand for starting places has been so great, with 290 horses entered, that the Addington meeting had to be split over two days with nine races on the opening day and 12 on Friday.

“It is all a bit surreal really with all that has been happening,” leading harness trainer Phil Williamson told media organization NZME. “You have got to support it and hope that it is the lifeline for the future … and not some knee-jerk reaction with no substance to it.”

Williamson has two horses entered at Addington and four at a meeting at Invercargill on the South Island on Saturday.

The New Zealand government recently allocated $45 million to the racing industry to help it meet its financial challenges.

“We can’t gild the lily,” Minister of Racing Winston Peters said in announcing the bailout. “The racing industry has been hit by the perfect storm of COVID-19 while in a weak financial state and in the midst of a reform program.

“As a result, there is a genuine risk of insolvency and the industry losing the future gains of its reforms.”

Under the reforms proposed by the Racing Industry Transition Agency, 20 thoroughbred or harness racing courses around New Zealand will close or lose licenses to hold meetings.

State-owned betting agency, the TAB, has recently cut almost one-third of its staff, closing a few of its storefront betting agencies. The organization has proposed ending face-to-face betting on racecourses, where bettors give cash to an operator and receive a ticket. On-course bettors are likely to have to use betting apps in future.

New Zealand’s decision to close its borders and go into lockdown quickly to slow down the spread of the coronavirus has been largely successful and restrictions are gradually being eased. A total of 21 people have died of COVID-19 in New Zealand and 1,504 have been infected, but there have been no new reported infections for the past five days.

Deadline for Triple Crown nominations extended to June 3

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The final deadline to nominate horses to the rescheduled Triple Crown series is June 3.

Owners and trainers can make 3-year-old thoroughbreds eligible for the three-race series at a cost of $3,000. That’s half the original price as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which is forcing the series to be run out of order for the first time since 1931.

A total of 347 horses were made eligible to the Triple Crown during the early nomination phase with a $600 payment due Jan. 25. The late nominations were originally due March 30, but were postponed until the Triple Crown races were rescheduled.

The series opens with the Belmont Stakes at a shortened distance on June 20, followed by the Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5 and the Preakness on Oct. 3. The series typically starts with the Derby, followed by the Preakness and Belmont.