The Rebound: Kentucky racing industry looking to rebound

Posted at 2:37 PM, Apr 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-28 22:27:57-04

VERSAILLES, Ky. (LEX 18) — Spring is in bloom, but the Run for the Roses will have to wait.

For only the second time, the Kentucky Derby date has been postponed.

The pandemic has upended all aspects of life, and that's no different for an industry most synonymous with the Bluegrass: horse racing.

While the timeline is still uncertain, those associated with racing are looking forward to the rebound as they remain in a holding pattern waiting for tracks to reopen.

"We set our clock and our lifestyle is surrounded by horse racing," said Elliott Walden, CEO of Winstar Farm.

But this weekend, there's no mint juleps, crowded infield, or call to the post at Churchill Downs, as the wait to safely reopen Kentucky race tracks continues.

"I know Kentucky is just dying to run and and, you know, we love the competition," said Walden.

Country House was a long shot who won last year's Kentucky Derby after Maximum Security was disqualified. With Derby's postponement, Country House holds another unlikely title.

"Didn't really expect to be standing here this time last year. But we'll take it. You know, longest reigning Derby champ," said Guinness McFadden, co-owner of Country House.

At first glance, business is still somewhat as usual at Blackwood Stables and Winstar Farm, but there are signs of a new normal.

"Offering people some PPE equipment, masks, and we've got thermometers for everybody to just, you know, take your temperature and make sure everybody's doing all right," said McFadden.

"We've mandated that team members stay within their own barns. There's no movement back and forth of barns," said Walden.

Canceled races and sales across the country have cost farms millions of dollars across the world. Despite the pandemic, Walden is optimistic about the future of the industry and the prospect of racing in 2020.

"I think Governor Beshear has done a good job to this point. And I hope that from here, he can marry the business side of things with the practical side of things and get things going again," said Walden.

Both McFadden and Walden prioritize safety, but also look forward to better days.

That includes racing at Keeneland and a September Derby, even if it's a little different.

"I think having racing, without fans even, to be able to see the horses turn for home in the Twin spires and run would be a huge help for us," said Walden.

"It's still gonna be run at Churchill Downs, and it's still gonna be a mile and a quarter on dirt. So it doesn't change from that perspective," said McFadden.