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Thursday, April 9, 2020

An Interview-Kentucky Derby 2020 Postponed, but NOT Cancelled!

Maybe it's technically the humans, but I like to think it's really the stalwart Thoroughbred race horses who refuse to allow COVID-19 and its challenging pandemic circumstances cancel the 146th running of the fabulous Kentucky Derby. A new race date has been set, Saturday, September 5, 2020. I'll pretend I'm a patient person and distract myself with other things until Labor Day weekend.

In the meantime, I reached out to a good friend of mine, Torrie Ann Needham, who loves horses and understands all the right things about the Thoroughbred racing industry. She's knowledgeable, optimistic, engaging and open every time I speak with her. I always appreciate her candor and insight. Here's some insight into how she views the current situation and its impact on a community she's valued her entire adult life.

What titles or jobs have you held over the past decades in the Thoroughbred racing industry? I started out at the track as an exercise rider, pony rider. I then was able to get an Assistant Trainers license. Since I retired, I’ve had Photographer credentials and have worked many Thoroughbred sales her in California.

Which of those roles gave you the most pleasure? Exercise Riding, though I enjoyed every aspect.

Is there a favorite memory attached to that role that you wouldn’t mind sharing? I have many memories, but probably the most memorable would be galloping the Eclipse award winning horse Lemhi Gold.

Which aspect of Thoroughbred horse care, appreciation, training, or maintenance has been your focus over the course of your career? Being an exercise rider, getting a horse to gallop or work correctly and efficiently was my most concentrated concern.

Do you believe the Triple Crown series has changed over the past two or three decades? If so, do you believe the changes have been predominantly positive or negative for the health and longevity of the horses and sport? Dramatically so, or manageable circumstances? The Triple Crown races really haven’t changed much over the years, training the horses have stayed consistent as well.  Most recently, the medication rules are the most controversial change.

Is there a single defining moment that comes to mind as pivotal in the horse racing industry? When PETA started getting involved, they have their sites on shutting the industry down.

What impact, if any, do you think postponing the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes' races will have on the annual Triple Crown series? For example, have you given any thought to expected attendance when the Kentucky Derby runs on its new anticipated, September 5th, date? Gosh, this years Triple Crown is so off schedule of the potential starters routine for preparation of these races.  Horses are on a path to the TC from months to a year back.  And would be ready at peak performance by the time these races would be run, so this postponement has disrupted their training and fitness program. Just the same as the Olympic athletes, such a disappointment.

I can’t help but wonder how shifting the series’ dates affects the horses? The fact that they were training, as all professional athletes do, with an intended target date for competition in mind. And abruptly without warning, they are forced to cease training and shift gears to something different. How will the horses spend their time during this rest period? All the horses intended to run in the Triple Crown will, I suspect, continue training and running in other races leading up to the Derby.  So hard to tell, since so many race tracks have suspended races. I know the Derby is slated to run the 1st Saturday in September, Labor Day weekend. I’ve not heard a date planned for the Preakness and Belmont.

What are your thoughts on how adjusting the timing of all three Triple Crown races will impact the Breeders Cup traditionally taking place the first weekend in November? The training and dates of all these races have created a huge impact on the horses, riders, trainers, I cannot honestly say I have an answer to this question.

Is there any reason to believe that horses who may have originally competed in the Triple Crown series will now skip those races and move directly to training for the Breeders Cup? What’s the likelihood of a horse competing in both series’ races? Again, I have no clue today as to an answer to this question.

What is your take on how the Thoroughbred racing industry is holding up under these extremely negative COVID-19 pandemic circumstances? From what I’ve read, horses are still training. Luckily they are still racing around the country, though they have shut Santa Anita down for now. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that they are trying to hold on the best they can. I went to Santa Anita for the Santa Anita Handicap and the atmosphere was quiet compared to years past. Though Covid 19 had not really hit yet in the state (California).

I can’t help but be concerned for the health and well-being of the horses’ jockeys, trainers and daily care takers. For example, are racing teams who were expecting to be at Churchill Downs next month as they prepared for the Kentucky Derby, being allowed to house team individuals in the backside, so they at least have shelter during this difficult time? Nothing has changed as far as housing the grooms and others involved with these horses. They are all taking precautions just like every one outside the race track. Wearing the face masks etc.

Is this tremendous shift in the racing industry personally impacting you, your expectations or your well-being this year? Yes this will impact me as far as working the TB Sales, I’m sure they will be cancelled.  As for the racing I will still go to the Derby no mater when it runs, and as soon as all this Covid 19 stuff has lifted, I’ll be back taking photos.....

Do you know of any industry specific resources, alternate options or financial avenues that individuals struggling for livelihood and sustenance can access or utilize during this historically difficult time? I believe the Farms and training centers should hold their own, the feed stores should still be relatively un affected.

Can you recall any previous similar time in our nation’s history that equally drastically negatively impacted the professional Thoroughbred racing industry’s ability to survive? The Racing industry has always done pretty well during crises, but this is a different circumstance that we’ve never been faced with before at this magnitude.

What do you think it will take for the industry to come out strong and on top of the current COVID-19 crisis intact? That’s a hard prediction, as the racing industry has been dwindling down so much over  the past 10 years with the closure of so many tracks and the heat from PETA and other entities.

What time frame to do you think we’re looking at for full recovery? I believe the racing industry will recover somewhat, but will never be what it once was.

When do you anticipate fans who love watching and listening to those majestic, athletic, four-legged beauties wind their way around the track, will again be properly entertained and enthralled? There will always be fans, but, fewer than ever before. Such a sad state of affairs.

Is there any advice you care to share that’s gotten you through previous difficult industry circumstances? Keep fighting for horse racing, write your city and state officials, your Congressman and give them your thoughts. We support Horse Racing.

Thanks so much, Torrie! I know these are exceptionally difficult and abnormal times. I, too, hope that the horse racing industry is able to survive and better yet, thrive, once all the current chaos and unbelievable, atypical circumstances and tragedy have passed. 

Take good care of yourselves, everyone! Not sure who my bet this year will be, but I'm looking forward to me and my horse BEATING ALL THE COMPETITION!!!