Washington, PA — After 11 days of silence, PA Gov. Tom Wolf responded to the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission on when it could resume horse racing in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately for horsemen, his response was not what we wanted to hear.
“As part of this reopening effort, we foresee horse racing reopening when counties enter the green phase, like other entertainment (casinos, theaters, etc). I commend the Commission’s efforts to implement mitigation efforts for those who are continuing to care for the horses at this time, and forethought in planning for how to address public health and safety as it relates to each phase of reopening.”
To read Gov. Wolf’s full letter to the PHRC, visit themsoa.com.
The Meadows Standardbred Owners Association has responded to Gov. Wolf with the open letter below:
Dear Gov. Wolf:
In your letter to PHRC, you lump racing with other large venues, such as casinos and theaters. The reality is that horse racing occurs outdoors and can easily follow CDC guidelines; because our trainer/drivers and caretakers must exercise, feed and care for their horses every day, we’re already on the backside, and we’re already following CDC safety guidelines. And those guidelines are working. We’ve had no COVID-19 positives — not a single one — in our paddock and backside areas.
Moreover, unlike other sports, horse racing can be conducted without spectators. Fans can watch the races and wager from a variety of platforms, including phone and computer.
Since racing at The Meadows Racetrack & Casino was shut down on March 16, horsemen and horsewomen have been without income. Yet because horses continue to need food, bedding, exercise and veterinary care, expenses have continued. While other small businesses can cut costs and furlough staff, racing stables cannot do the same. Costs for upkeep of a single Standardbred can reach $2,500 per month — and there has been no income to offset this.
Many of us have applied for unemployment compensation and government loans; some have yet to hear back or receive any funding to help us through this unprecedented time.
Consider the plight of D&G Stables, operated by Dean and Glenda Collins at the Meadows. Of the nine horses in its stable, D&G owns seven outright, meaning there are no outside owners to help them meet their significant monthly bills. Right now, this situation is altogether typical.
Norm Parker, who trains 30 horses at the Meadows, puts it this way: “If we have a reopening date we could shoot for, our horses will be ready to race and start making money again. We are hoping to reach the ‘green’ phase and start earning a living again. We’ll be able to pay our vendors, pay for hay and feed, and it will make everyone feel a little bit better.”
Currently, 90 percent of the people needed to resume live racing at The Meadows are already reporting to the backside and working every day. Trainer/drivers are here. Caretakers are here. Track and facilities maintenance staff are here. Security personnel are here.
Resumption of racing would require about 20 additional people — and these would be at scattered sites. State veterinarians and other PHRC personnel would be on the backside, but state judges would be at their office in the main casino building. The TV production crew would be in that building or outdoors while pari-mutuel clerks — to handle phone wagers — would work in a completely separate facility. Thus, the population on the backside, where stringent CDC measures already are in place, would be increased by only a few people.
In light of all this, the MSOA respectfully requests that you reconsider your timeline and authorize immediate resumption of live racing, without spectators, at The Meadows. Indeed, our neighboring state of Ohio has done just that, announcing that live racing in Ohio can resume on May 22. Similarly, Indiana and Ontario have announced that live racing at their tracks will resume in June.
If you authorize the reopening of racing at The Meadows now, you will immeasurably aid our horsemen and horsewomen, provide a much-needed form of entertainment for Pennsylvanians and, since the Commonwealth receives a commission on every wager, restore a key revenue stream to the state. And you’ll accomplish this without adversely affecting public health and safety.
Richard G. Gillock, President
Meadows Standardbred Owners Association
For all of the latest news on the resumption of racing, visit the USTA COVID-19 Resource Center.