In the latest move to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan became the first governor to shut down racetracks Sunday when he issued an executive order closing all Maryland casinos, racetracks and simulcast betting facilities to the public.
The executive order closing Laurel Park, Pimlico Race Course, Rosecroft Raceway, Timonium Race Course, Fair Hill Races, and Ocean Downs – along with six casinos — took effect midnight Monday. It came with a warning that failure to comply with the order is a crime.
“It is critical to public health and safety that bars, restaurants and other businesses across the state comply with the law,” Gov. Hogan said in a statement. “Anyone who hosts or is part of the crowds in bars this weekend is jeopardizing the health of others and must avoid any contact with family members or friends over the age of 60 or those with underlying health conditions.”
According to the Maryland Department of Health, there were 37 confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in the state as of Monday morning.
Preakness Stakes in Question
The order immediately affects Laurel Park and Rosecroft Raceway, the two Maryland tracks currently racing. Laurel Park is in the middle of its spring meet, which runs through May 3. Racing in the state shifts to Pimlico for a short meet centered around the May 16 Preakness Stakes, before returning to Laurel later in May.
Preakness Week in Maryland is one of the state’s athletic financial engines, producing an annual economic impact to the region between $30 million and $40 million. The racing industry in Maryland creates approximately 20,000 jobs.
The Preakness has run at Pimlico every year since 1909, and Hogan’s decision isn’t the only factor weighing on the status of the second jewel in American horse racing’s Triple Crown. The Triple Crown season, which traditionally lasts six weeks, is horse racing’s biggest stage in the United States.
Officials at Churchill Downs announced last week they will make a decision on the fate of the 2020 Kentucky Derby this week. That decision would immediately create a domino effect across the sport, affecting the entire season going forward. Right now, horse racing is one of the few sports taking place in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic.
Voluntary Closings in the Works
Gov. Hogan’s decision came on the heels of three other tracks voluntarily closing: Turf Paradise outside of Phoenix, Parx Racing in Pennsylvania, and Sunland Park in southern New Mexico.
That latter closure came after New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called Sunland Park GM Rick Baugh Saturday afternoon to request the track cease operations for “two to three weeks.”
Baugh complied, making Sunday’s Sunland Park card, carried out in front of no spectators, the last race day for the immediate future. This included the cancellation of Sunday’s Grade 3 Sunland Derby, the first Kentucky Derby prep scrubbed from the Derby Trail.
This week’s Derby prep is Saturday’s Grade 2 Louisiana Derby from Fair Grounds in New Orleans. As of now, 14 horses are entered in the 1 3/16-mile race. It’s the first Derby prep race of the season to offer 100-40-20-15 qualifying points to its top four finishers.
Whether or not this race takes place five days from now, with or without fans, is becoming more and more of a long shot.