US RACING: Florida Derby in doubt because of COVID-19

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In the wake of a Broward County ban on conducting non-essential business amid the coronavirus pandemic, and a subsequent request to close by the city of Hallandale Beach, Fla., Gulfstream Park plans to race on.

With the track’s signature Florida Derby (G1) set for Saturday, a new South Florida Sun-Sentinel report indicates Gulfstream has threatened legal action should local government stand in its way.

“They need to stop the racing,” Hallandale Beach Vice Mayor Sabrina Javellana told the Sun-Sentinel. “We can’t just bend to their will just because they say they’re going to sue us or [take] whatever legal action. They’re a powerful entity, but we can’t just allow that to go on. They’re blatantly violating the Broward County order.”

As with other operational American tracks, Gulfstream has raced behind closed doors and also shut down its casino. According to the Sun-Sentinel, the track also shuttered restaurants on site before the Broward County mandate arrived.

Javellana added track officials had told city staff at least 20 people are needed to conduct racing, which exceeds the limit in the Broward County emergency order. In turn, county officials said it’s up to the city to enforce the new rules.

Gulfstream is scheduled to begin its racing week at 1 p.m. ET Wednesday, drawing the Florida Derby card the same day. Javellana told the Sun-Sentinel that in the meantime, the city is seeking a clarification as to whether Gulfstream should halt racing.

Horsemen have argued during the spread of coronavirus that whether there’s racing allowed, trainers and barn staff need to be on site to care for and exercise their runners. Races have continued with only essential staff such as a gate crew and stewards, plus jockeys, that add to the equation.

While racetracks were not specifically mentioned in the Broward County order, Javellana said they weren’t specifically exempted.

After Gulfstream concludes its Championship meet on Sunday, the track is scheduled to begin a new season April 3.

“We want to have it in a clear order from the county that says horse racing is not an exempted business,” Javellana told the Sun-Sentinel. “There is literally no other reason for them to be racing other than keeping horse people happy, who are going to be watching and betting online, I assume.”

The Florida Derby, run at 1 1/8 miles, is headlined by a rematch of last out Gulfstream stakes winners Tiz the Law and Ete Indien. The Kentucky Derby qualifier awards points on a 100-40-20-10 scale to its top-four finishers toward the Sept. 5 race at Churchill Downs.

The Santa Anita Derby (G1) scheduled for April 4 and the May 2 Arkansas Derby (G1) are other top Derby preps set at tracks, Santa Anita Park and Oaklawn Park, that as with Gulfstream have continued racing this spring.