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When Oaklawn announced the races would go on, but without fans, the thought was, "OK, the casino can carry part of the purses."

After all, the purses are on par with any track and far ahead of most, mostly because of Instant Racing and later electronic games of skill.

It seemed like Oaklawn raised purses twice a year, and not just for the big races. All of them received a bigger slice.

After two cases of coronavirus were discovered in Garland County, Louis Cella, president and CEO of Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, and his advisers decided last Sunday there would be no more casino action for at least two weeks.

If we are all honest with ourselves, this virus is going to keep us sidelined longer than that.

Schools are closed until April 17, and many students were told to clean out their lockers, one or two students at a time.

Suddenly, Oaklawn hadn't just lost money in concessions and lower handles. Supplemental money from the casino also dried up.

The natural thing for most to do would have been to lock the doors and say see you next year.

Losing money does that.

But for the love of thoroughbred racing and because of the Cella family's rich history in the sport, Cella and his advisers put their heads together with one goal in mind: How do we make it to May 2, Oaklawn's official closing day.

Churchill Downs last week announced it was postponing the biggest horse race in the world, the Kentucky Derby, from May 2 until the first Saturday in September.

It will be just the second time in the Derby's 146-year history that the race isn't run in May. In 1945, it was run on June 9.

NBC is working with Pimlico and Belmont to move the Preakness to September and the Belmont Stakes to October to keep the Triple Crown intact, if not on time.

Churchill made no bones about it: The track was not running the race without fans.

Last year's Derby drew more than 150,000 to Churchill. That day makes Churchill's budget for the season. The crowd is just as important for NBC.

Back at Oaklawn, the track changed its live-racing dates last year to take advantage of spring weather. Its new closing day is the first Saturday of May.

Since closing was not an option, Cella met with the trainers and some owners. He proposed keeping the track vibrant by cutting purses. Not slashing them, just cutting them so the meet could make it to the finish line.

The horsemen, mostly veterans, agreed it was a fair compromise.

Cella and his advisers made one brilliant move, which reassures everyone that the 2020 Oaklawn meet will be complete: The Arkansas Derby will run on closing day, May 2.

That also gives the world a Derby on the first Saturday in May.

These are tough times. Strange times.

But our country has faced adversity many times before. Usually during hard times, people turn part of their attention to the world of sports. There aren't many active right now, though.

Admittedly, it is nice to have a newspaper to read on my iPad.

There was more than an hour's worth of information -- everything you ever wanted to know about the coronavirus and more -- and entertainment for about $1 a day.

A lot of work has gone into making sure we continue to put out a first-class newspaper, even though most of us are now working from home.

Oaklawn will continue to have first-class racing, even though you can wager on it only online, including at Oaklawnanywhere.

Hopefully, by the first Saturday in May, this virus will be under control.

Sports on 03/22/2020


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