Pending the approval of the state racing commission, Columbus plans to scrap its plans for a live meet this year.
Agricultural Park General Manager Dan Clarey confirmed Friday that the track will not hold live racing because of coronavirus concerns. The announcement originally had been made on a Facebook post.
“We’ve been holding off as long as we could to make this decision,’’ he said. “Things just aren’t trending in the right direction for us.’’
Clarey said the race group has an agreement to operate the facility with the permission of the Agricultural Society board.
“The board felt it just wasn’t going to be the right thing and that also was the opinion of various others in our community,’’ he said. “It’s unfortunate, but that’s the world we’re living in these days.’’
Columbus, which traditionally races in late summer and concludes around Labor Day, moved its dates up this year with the hope of keeping horsemen in the state. The track was going to run nine weekend days, from May 29 through June 21.
“It already was going to be a big change for us out here with those dates,’’ Clarey said. “Now it’s an even bigger change that we won’t be racing.’’
Columbus must still get the approval of the racing commission, which is scheduled to discuss the matter at a May 22 meeting. The commission granted a similar hardship waiver last month to Omaha’s Horsemen’s Park because of COVID-19.
It’s also an important simulcasting issue. According to state statute, a Nebraska track must hold at least one live race to legally simulcast the following year.
Clarey said if there had been racing, it would have resembled the no-spectator meet that Grand Island’s Fonner Park has been running since late March. That track has continued to race with the help of gigantic simulcasting numbers from outlets worldwide.
Fonner completed its regularly scheduled meet and picked up 12 additional live dates after Horsemen’s Park was unable to race. Fonner CEO Chris Kotulak said the track had not been contacted about doing the same for Columbus, adding that it wouldn’t be practical.
“Watching our entries, our fields are getting shorter,’’ he said. “There are trainers who are starting to leave to go somewhere else.’’
Kotulak added that several other larger racetracks are preparing to start racing, which would cut into simulcast revenues. That list includes Gulfstream in Florida, Churchill Downs in Kentucky, Golden Gate Fields in California and Canterbury Downs in Minnesota.
Still closed for now is Iowa’s Prairie Meadows, which traditionally races throughout the summer.
Clarey said the absence of racing in Columbus will be a rarity.
“I know we’ve been racing at least 40 straight years and it’s probably closer to 70,’’ he said. “As far as I know, this is the first time we won’t be racing.’’
He said he is hopeful that all of the state’s live meets will get back on track in the future.
“We all want to get back to normal,’’ he said. “But we just don’t know when that will be.’’
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