Horse Racing To Return As Kentucky Begins To Reopen Economy

Posted on May 4, 2020 - Last Updated on May 8, 2020

Kentucky horse racing, like many other spectator events, has been absent for weeks. That’s about to change as part of a phased reopening plan put into place by Gov. Andy Beshear, announced to the public last week. So, while Derby Day came and went without horse racing in Kentucky, the rest of the month will not.

Beginning May 6, tracks in KY can resume racing on a limited basis. The most notable of those limits is empty stands for the time being at Churchill Downs and other tracks around the Bluegrass State.

What will socially distant Kentucky horse racing look like?

Churchill Downs and other tracks around the state will now have to make their plans for not only resuming events but doing so in accordance with the latest health guidelines. Although racing will return, things are far from back to normal.

On top of the no-spectators restriction, Beshear has also set 10 rules for businesses resuming operations. Those include the use of masks, on-site temperature checks, installment of hand-wash stations, and that all work which can be done from home continues to be done in such a manner.

That means the racetracks will only have the absolute minimum number of people on-site as necessary to operate. Additionally, Beshear requires them to still observe social distancing procedures while the races are ongoing.

It’s unclear how long these restrictions will last. The same goes for whether Beshear will lift them all at once or whether he will do so gradually. It’s likely that spectators won’t be allowed to return to the tracks for a while yet.

KY is likely to retain its place as the heart of horse racing despite the restrictions. That means people in Tennessee and other states who love to bet on the races can start to prepare to do so. Online horse racing betting is a grey area in terms of its legality in Tennessee though.

Online betting apps a safe, but gray, option for TN horse racing fans

Several online horse racing apps will happily accept wagers from people accessing their sites in TN. There’s no language in the TN state code that expressly allows for such activity or regulates it, however.

At the same time, Tennessee has no strong history of actually charging those who do bet on horse races online within its state with actual crimes. That’s no guarantee that authorities in TN will never do so, however.

Given its proximity to KY, that may be a facet of the legal gambling industry the state might explore at some point. At one time, legally betting on sporting events in TN seemed like a long shot. Now, that’s months away from becoming reality. Seemingly every year some sort of state bill regarding parimutuel racing gets introduced in the state legislature.

It might be a while before TN residents can make the trip to watch the races and place bets at tracks in KY in person. That might be the case in time for the 2020 Kentucky Derby, however. Earlier this year, Churchill Downs rescheduled that event for Labor Day weekend.

Hopefully, it will be safe to allow spectators when the first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown takes place this fall. Either way, online wagering on action at Kentucky tracks should resume in a couple of weeks.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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