Top photo: Charlie’s Quest running at Parx Racing, Pennsylvania, in 2012. Bottom: Now simply Charlie, running free with his friends Henry and Caroline, at my Frederick County, Maryland farm earlier this week.
Today is Charlie’s 11th birthday — and I’m doing something different to mark the occasion this year: a COVID-19 status update on the racetracks he ran as Charlie’s Quest from January 2012 through July 2016.
Charlie’s Quest ran at twelve racetracks during that 4-1/2-year period before PETA rescued him and I adopted him in September 2016 — starting with tier 1 tracks (using the measure of purse size $400,000+), and dropping into the lower tiers as untreated fetlock injuries led his performance to decline.
As of today, the COVID-19 crisis has prompted nine of Charlie’s former twelve tracks to suspend horse racing, training, or both — and one, New York’s Aqueduct, has even converted into a temporary COVID-19 hospital.
Two tracks are now racing horses with empty spectator stands, while three have cancelled races but continue to train with reduced staff. Shockingly, New York’s Belmont continues training horses even as it reports 20 confirmed COVID-19 cases and one death among human staff!
The bad news for horses is that suspension of racing — at these and many other tracks across the U.S. and around the world — will likely mean more owners putting their horses up for sale this year, and many of those horses going to kill buyers for meat. Still, COVID-19 may bring many horses a silver lining: less drugging and other abuse on the track in the short term, and a faster decline of the corrupt and cruel industry in the long term. (See Horse Racing Has Outlived its Time, Washington Post Editorial Board, March 13, 2020.)
Here are more details on Charlie’s twelve former tracks, in the order he first raced them:
Gulfstream Park, Florida: One of the few U.S tracks that continues horse racing this season, Gulfstream is even adding races — though with precautions that include closing to live spectators and requiring two weeks of quarantine for all horses entering the state.
Belmont Park, New York: Home to the final race in the annual Triple Crown, Belmont Park has announced postponement of the June 6 Belmont Stakes, and has not yet set a new date. However, the park reportedly continues to train more than 1,300 horses stabled there. Despite numerous precautionary measures, 20 of the park’s 585 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, and one of these has died.
Parx Casino & Racing, Pennsylvania: Parx ceased all racing on March 11, one of the first U.S. tracks to do so — though as of March 30 it was still training horses.
Aqueduct, New York: The New York Racing Association (NYRA) announced March 28 that racing would be canceled for the remainder of the season, with the building designated to serve as a temporary COVID-19 hospital site.
Saratoga, New York: On April 8, the NYRA announced postponement of training originally scheduled to begin on April 15, saying they were working with health authorities on a new date. At this time, the summer racing season is still scheduled to begin July 16.
Oaklawn Park, Arkansas: Another of the few tracks to continue racing, Oaklawn announced on March 12 that it would not allow spectators — but currently plans to complete its full season on May 2, as originally scheduled.
Lone Star Park, Texas: On March 20, the park announced temporary postponement of the racing season that was scheduled to start April 16, saying the situation would be re-evaluated on May 3 in consultation with the governor and state health officials.
Indiana Grand Racing & Casino, Indiana: The track has postponed the start of live racing, with a new date yet to be announced. Training continues on a reduced schedule, with a prohibition on entry of new horses.
Churchill Downs, Kentucky: The track has announced that the Kentucky Derby is postponed from May 2 to September 5. Its March 17 stable opening and April 25 spring meet opening have both been postponed to an undetermined date.
Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort, West Virginia: The property is temporarily closed. Horse racing is scheduled to start on April 26. No updates have been announced, and there is no word on the status of training.
Presque Isle Downs, Pennsylvania: Racing is scheduled to start May 11, with possible rescheduling to be announced. The start of training has been tentatively postponed to April 30.