Dear Steeplechase Family,
The members of the National Steeplechase Association Board of Directors and I hope that you are safe and well in these most difficult of times. None of us have experienced anything like this coronavirus pandemic in our lifetimes. We have all been affected in so many ways by this global crisis. We are small business owners, horse owners, trainers, and race-meet officials. You have questions, we know, and we want to answer them to the extent that we can in a rapidly changing environment. Beginning with this letter, we will keep you abreast of what the NSA is doing, and hoping to do, in the coming weeks and months.
Our director of racing, Bill Gallo, has been in constant contact with our horsemen and our race meets. He is working diligently to put together a strong, well-balanced schedule for June that serves the needs of as many of our horsemen as possible. He also is working to put together a summer schedule, although the race tracks that play host to our races, especially Saratoga Race Course, have yet to solidify their plans. Like us, these racetracks do not know when they will be able to run and to what extent.
We also recognize that our horsemen, the owners and trainers, are in a difficult financial position with no racing and thus no race purses. They are taking care of their horses and doing so without purse income. We are working to develop a knowledge of the federal relief programs that were recently enacted, and especially the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses. Our general manager, Peter McGivney, is exploring the program for the NSA, and Communications Director Don Clippinger is evaluating it for his company and other clients. Do not hesitate to call on them if you have questions. Horsemen’s groups have had webinars on the federal programs and have welcomed steeplechase participation.
We also are concerned for our jockeys, who depend upon racing for a great part of their income. While we have postponed some of our meets, all National Hunt races in England and Ireland have been canceled for the rest of the season. We also have a very promising crop of young riders coming along, some of them third- or fourth-generation steeplechase participants. The loss of almost all point to point races this season has deprived these very capable young riders of the valuable experience necessary to graduate to the NSA apprentice ranks, despite our best efforts to create these opportunities at race meets that also eventually had to cancel. We are still trying to create opportunities within the context of a very limited schedule.
Our race meets also have suffered. To date, we have had 11 spring cancellations, and those meets have fixed and continuing expenses that must be paid. The race meets that have postponed until June are confronting unanswerable questions. Will they be able to run? Will their volunteers be available? Will their usual crowds attend. We also are concerned for our race meets’ charitable beneficiaries; many of them depend on the meets’ contributions to balance their budgets. Several of them are hospital systems, and they are under great professional and financial stress now as they treat the growing number of patients afflicted with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. There are a lot of questions and no easy answers.
What has brought me great joy during these tumultuous times is the enthusiasm, dedication and understanding displayed by everyone in the NSA constituency as we have tried to re-invent this Spring season on a daily, and sometimes hourly basis. This task will continue to be challenging, but the steeplechase community is an extended family, and we will attack it with perseverance and resolve, both for what remains of the Spring and Summer schedule and beyond.
I urge all of you to take the necessary steps to stay safe. Please observe the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations for social distancing and, more recently, wearing face masks when out in public. Please stay healthy, and we look forward to seeing you on that bright day when steeplechase racing resumes.
Dr. Al Griffin Jr.