Updated: Oaklawn to run Rebel day without on-track spectators

Updated: Oaklawn to run Rebel day without on-track spectators
Photo: Coady Photography

UPDATED: Oaklawn Park on Thursday evening reversed course amid concerns of the spread of COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, and will not have spectators on track for Saturday's Rebel Stakes day card.

The races will, however, go on.

ORIGINAL: As leagues and venues hosting sporting events grapple with how to move on amid the spread of COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, Oaklawn Park announced Thursday morning it intends to race on.

The Hot Springs, Ark., track begins its racing week Thursday and on Saturday looms a major afternoon not just for Oaklawn, but the 2020 Kentucky Derby trail. The $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) led by unbeaten Nadal tops a card that also includes the Azeri Stakes (G2) for fillies and mares and the Essex Handicap for older horses.

"Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort currently intends to remain open during our regular operating hours and all scheduled events are continuing as planned at this time," a statement from the track reads.

Oaklawn is, however, "actively taking the appropriate preventative measures" to prevent coronavirus' spread and "expanded many of our sanitary procedures" for on-site patrons. They include:

Providing more hand sanitizer dispensers across our property

• Increasing the frequency of all of cleaning activities in racing and casino areas, including, restrooms, restaurants, bars, entrance/exit doors, etc.

• Ensuring our protocols for cleaning and sanitation meet or exceed the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and that of local and state health authorities.

A number of other tracks have announced similar plans to continue activities with increased sanitary standards, among them Keeneland with sales and racing seasons approaching and JACK Thistletown in Ohio.

In the bigger picture, Churchill Downs officials have said they will monitor how other sports leagues handle coronavirus in the weeks leading up to the first Saturday in May. On Wednesday evening, the NBA suspended its season after a player tested positive for the disease, and earlier in the day the NCAA announced its basketball tournaments would be played only in front of essential team personnel, with no fans in arenas for March Madness.

An announcement also arrived Thursday from The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields in California, that the two venues will race on but do so without the general public on site.

The move was made in response to a policy implemented by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who called for gatherings of 250 or more people to be canceled. 

Newsom included stadium areas and outdoor events among his list of places where events should be canceled. He said smaller gatherings can proceed, but that organizers should implement social distancing of six feet per person.

Changing our actions for a short period of time will save the life of one or more people you know,” he said in a statement. “That’s the choice before us. Each of us has extraordinary power to slow the spread of this disease. Not holding that concert or community event can have cascading effects — saving dozens of lives and preserving critical health care resources that your family may need a month from now.

"The people in our lives who are most at risk – seniors and those with underlying health conditions — are depending on all of us to make the right choice.”

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