LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Opening day of Keeneland is symbolic for the first day of spring in the Bluegrass.
The flowers may be blooming, but the starting gate is still parked at the race track after the spring meet was canceled due to the pandemic.
Now, Keeneland is looking at steps to reopen for racing. The president told LEX 18 News that if negotiations work out, we could see races in Lexington this summer.
"We're the Horse Capital of the World. Within 30 miles of us, more than half the foals in America are being born right now," said Keeneland's president, Bill Thomason.
The historic track synonymous with the Horse Capital is closed to everyone except for essential employees. Many are wearing masks and having their temperature checked daily.
It's been six weeks since Thomason made the difficult, but necessary, decision to cancel the spring meet.
"It was obvious that there was no way to have the protocols in place (for social distancing). That we could keep the grooms, the people, safe who we have to have to care for our horses and bring them into our community," said Thomason.
250,000 visitors stayed home. Hotels, stores and restaurants lost millions of dollars of potential income. Premier races with millions of dollars on the line were canceled.
Now, Thomason is thinking outside the box to bring racing back, maybe before the fall meet.
As Keeneland looks forward to the rebound, Thomason says there could be races in Lexington as soon as this summer.
"We'll do something Keeneland's never done, and has never been able to do, and that's find a place during the summer where we can bring back days of racing hopefully. We can bring back some of those stakes that were missed," said Thomason.
Of course, these races could run without spectators in the stands. Thomason says he wants to bring fans back, but not until it's safe to do so.
His priority is making sure the backstretch community taking care of the horses is protected.
"We keep them safe through the sanitizing of where they are, where they stay. We make sure they're fed and taken care of. Keeneland has a full-time chaplain who is there every single day," said Thomason.
While it may be a while before we see crowds in the paddock, Thomason is confident that bringing races back to the Bluegrass will be a morale boost we need.
"We have great hope for a really exciting fall if we all continue to do the right thing," said Thomason.
A fall that is still scheduled to include the September sale, fall meet, and Breeder's Cup.