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Kentucky Derby in doubt as racing goes behind closed doors

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Los Angeles (AFP)

Leading trainer Bob Baffert said Saturday that May's 146th Kentucky Derby could be postponed as racing went behind closed doors at California's Santa Anita track for the first time since it opened in 1934 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Officials at Churchill Downs revealed Saturday that they were considering the "timing" of the showpiece and Baffert -- who has saddled five winners in the "Run for the Roses" -- said that the first leg of US racing's Triple Crown could be pushed back from May 2 to later in the year.

"Churchill Downs is saying they're not going to run the Derby without the people there, so I'm hearing may be June or in September," Baffert said after saddling Charlatan to a big win in an allowance race at a deserted Santa Anita.

Only accredited media, owners, trainers, jockeys, grooms and a limited number of track employees were allowed in.

Major professional sport in the United States has been brought to almost a complete standstill by the coronavirus pandemic, with the NBA, NHL and MLS suspending play and Major League Baseball pushing back the scheduled start of their season by "at least two weeks" while suspending pre-season games.

The US PGA Tour season has also been suspended but Baffert said it was the postponement of the season's first golf major, the US Masters at Augusta National next month, that had really caught his attention.

"Whenever they cancel the Masters, that's like the Derby," he said. "I've never seen anything like this, it's kind of scary. Hopefully they can get everything under control."

In a statement posted on its website, Churchill Downs indicated it was considering its options for the Kentucky Derby.

Derby"We recognize that the impact of this iconic event extends well beyond the historic racetrack of Churchill Downs," the statement said.

"The Kentucky Derby is a cherished and important time for the City of Louisville and the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

"We are mindfully aware of our fans who travel from great distances to join us as well as our valued employees whose most intense preparations to host a world-class event begin now.

"For these reasons, we have been working carefully and diligently with relevant health experts and authorities to ensure we make the most responsible decision regarding the timing of the 146th Kentucky Derby this year.

"We thank you for your patience and are committed to providing regular communication and transparency as we move forward."

Churchill Downs said it expected to have an update in the coming week.

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