OUTLOOK FOR HORSE RACING IN 2021

It is a vast understatement to say that 2020 has been challenging for the global horse racing business; and it will take more time for a recovery to take place. How much time is uncertain because there is too little comparable history upon which to base estimates.

The world is still in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and, though approved vaccines will be coming onto the market soon, there is still a risky journey ahead before things can normalize.  It will likely take at least all of next year to markedly curb the spread of COVID-19.  And there is no certainty that vaccines will work as planned, especially if the virus mutates or a large percentage of the world’s population refuses to be inoculated or does not have access to a vaccine.

An early sign of the pandemic hitting the American horse racing industry full force emerged with postponement of the Kentucky Derby from the first Saturday in May until the first Saturday in September…with no fans at Churchill Downs.  It was the second time that the race had been rescheduled. The first came in 1945, near the conclusion of World War II.  Whether a 2021 Kentucky Derby can be run on the first Saturday in May with 150,000-plus fans in attendance is highly doubtful.

The horse racing industry, like all enterprises, was caught off guard by the pandemic and therefore was understandably unprepared to handle a black swan event like Covid-19. No medical equivalents of the informative betting tips and guide were available to help, as living people had never encountered such a devastating pandemic.

In spite of on-track fan restrictions forced by Covid-19, expanded horse racing on television brought at-home fans relief from cabin fever.  Daily racing telecasts from Saratoga, Del Mar, Keeneland and other tracks across North America provided fans with the next best thing to watching on track.

In a best-case outcome, with Covid-19 vaccinations beginning in December 2020, by mid-2021 sporting events will be able to accommodate large crowds of spectators.  While the NCAA has already determined that its annual mega-bucks “March Madness” men’s basketball tournament will not allow fans in 2021–and will be confined to sites in and around Indianapolis, Indiana–the rescheduled 2020 Toyko Olympics organizers optimistically plan to have fans in attendance from July 23-August 8, 2021.

Almost every aspect of daily living has been altered by COVID, including sports.  Sports competitions offer fans a diversion from day-to-day problems and often bring together people who otherwise have little in common. Thus a return to pre-Covid days would be a global healing of sorts.

Horse racing is in a better position than most sports in terms of coping with the deleterious financial effects of a pandemic, as it has a revenue stream from online wagering.  Nonetheless, days when fans can enjoy being at a racetrack up close and personal are ahead, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Copyright 2020 Horse Racing Business

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