Lone Star's Covid-19 shutdown has trainers worried

Lone Star's Covid-19 shutdown has trainers worried
Photo: Mary Cage

Racing was abruptly shut down Sunday afternoon at Lone Star Park and suspended indefinitely after a track employee and a jockey tested positive for the coronavirus, two sources told Horse Racing Nation.

“Due to an abundance of caution, all racing operations at Lone Star Park have been suspended due to COVID19,” said a statement that was posted to the track’s Twitter account. “Racing will resume at a date to be determined.”

The shutdown came after the first of the day’s nine scheduled races had been run. Horses were being prepared for a 3:35 p.m. CDT start that was at first delayed and then canceled altogether with the statement that was posted at 3:57 p.m.

“I was standing in the paddock about to saddle for the second race, and they sent all the horses home,” trainer Danny Pish said by telephone Sunday. “Then I’m wondering what the hell? We were sitting there in the paddock wondering why. We didn’t even know. Then they put out that statement.”

Although track management was not available to confirm it, a rider and an employee who looks after the silks in the jockeys room were said to have failed tests that have become more frequent since the spread of the pandemic. While it was not immediately clear when they were tested, one horseman said it was common knowledge by early Sunday.

“We already knew that the silks lady had tested positive,” said Karl Broberg, the country’s winningest trainer the last six years and one of the leading owners of horses at Lone Star. “We already knew that a jockey had tested positive. We knew that going into today (Sunday). Why even run the first...race? Why put anybody else at risk?”

One source said that a jockey other than the one who tested positive had raised concerns Sunday about whether it was safe to continue racing, and that that convinced track management to order the shutdown.

A call to Kent Slabotsky, vice president of operations at Lone Star Park, went unreturned Sunday afternoon.

Although entries have been taken for races scheduled for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and next Sunday, Broberg was pessimistic about whether they would go forward.

“There’s zero percent chance that they run,” he said. “They haven’t even told us that the track is closed for training tomorrow (Monday). It’s absolutely...absurd the way it’s been handled. You would think that the city or the state called and told them that they had to shut down. But I don’t believe that. Is there any chance that they’re working on a Sunday? No.”

While he held out some hope for a resumption before the meet’s scheduled closing date of Aug. 11, Pish said that he had not heard from track management.

I’ve got no indication of that because I haven’t spoken to anybody with any authority,” he said. “But at this time I doubt that they can give me much direction on that anyway. The most promising thing that I have is that the statement said racing will resume at a later date. For me and all the horsemen here that’s the only thing that’s keeping us from being in a panic. That’s what we’re all hanging our hats on.”

Broberg was more dour.

“This meet is done; you can take that to the bank,” he said. “That’s not what they announced, but come on. It’s done. They’re not going to suspend it for a couple weeks and then pick it back up to go the final two weeks.”

After starting its season May 22 without spectators, Lone Star let fans back in on June 14, subjecting them to temperature checks and urging them to observe social distancing. With public areas limited to 50 percent capacity, face masks were required as of Thursday to be in compliance with a mandate from Gov. Greg Abbott. The requirement was added because Texas has seen a new surge in coronavirus cases.

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