HENDERSON, Ky. (WFIE) - The Kentucky Derby and Oaks are postponed until Labor Day weekend, but horse racing will return to the bluegrass state next week.
Churchill Downs is scheduled to reopen for its live meet on May 16, but what about horse racing plans in the Tri-State?
In about seven weeks, people could be hearing that familiar call to the post at Ellis Park.
“We’re hoping to have our backside operations very soon,” Ellis Park General Manager Jeff Inman said. “We’re shooting for June 1. We’re working on the dirt track, turf track, backside - we’re getting ready to get horses in here and we’re working to get our track open for a June 28 opening.”
It’s been nearly six weeks since the horses last ran in Kentucky at Turfway Park.
Last week, Gov. Andy Beshear authorized the return of horse racing without fans as part of his first phase of business reopenings in the commonwealth.
Churchill Downs’ spring meet is the first in line, so they will reopen their backside on May 11. This will be followed by its opening day on Saturday, May 16
“They really did lead the charge on getting racing open in Kentucky, so we are taking the lessons they’re learning and we’re using them for our own plans,” Inman said.
If racing does indeed resume at Ellis Park, racetrack officials plan to take all necessary steps to keep customers and staff members safe.
“We’re still hopeful that June 28 that we can open with fans in the stands,” Inman said. “They may be sitting six-feet apart, but that’s what we’re aiming for. We’ll have people coming around cleaning. We’ll clean the whole facility with special disinfectants every night. We’ll even make sure that our customers have sanitizing wipes, so they can make themselves comfortable.”
And what if no fans are allowed?
“We are working through how spectator-less racing would look like,” Inman said. “We’re looking at simulcasts to some extent. There’s going to be interest. People want to return to bet on the horses again, and we’ll take whatever tracks are open and take those bets.”
Fans or no fans, Inman says it’s critical to get horses back on the track.
“It’s a huge source of employment for the state of Kentucky, and that’s why it’s such great concern that we get started again,” Inman said. “We realize how many people are dependent on the sport.”
Inman tells 14 News that because Ellis Park has been closed, the proposed track renovations have been put on hold, but officials plan to resume the work after their summer meet.