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COVID-19 hits hard

Handicappers may see some odd jockey/trainer combinations in upcoming Stakes races.

The coronavirus pandemic has quickly impacted jockeys around the country, including several who rode at Los Alamitos on July 4. Luis Saez, Martin Garcia, Flavien Prat and Victor Espinoza were among those who rode there and subsequently tested positive for COVID-19. Florent Geroux left his Kentucky base to ride Monomoy Girl to victory at Belmont Park on July 14 and tested positive for coronavirus shortly after.

Following the Prat positive in California, Del Mar racetrack had the entire jockey’s room tested on July 14. Fifteen jockeys tested positive for COVID-19, as did a handful of track employees (such as valets) who work in the jockey’s room.

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Del Mar immediately canceled racing last weekend. Los Alamitos conducted tests on 49 jockeys and various track employees last week that resulted in an additional nine positives. All were jockeys.

New protocols designed to reduce the spread of coronavirus have now been enacted at many tracks. Saratoga, Del Mar, Gulfstream Park, Laurel Park, Prairie Meadows, Canterbury Park, and Louisiana Downs will no longer allow a jockey riding at their meet to go to another jurisdiction to ride and return. Jockeys who have been riding at other tracks will also not be allowed to come in and ride at those tracks during the meet.

Saratoga has many important Grade I Stakes coming up like the Travers, the Allen Jerkens, the Personal Ensign, the Test, the Whitney, and the Woodward that attract horses from around the country. While horses may still travel, many working on championship resumes may need replacement jockeys.

Midnight Bisou, the top older filly or mare in the country, is pointing to the Personal Ensign on August 1. Her regular jockey Mike Smith is based at Del Mar and will not be able to ride.

Trainer Bob Baffert plans to send several top horses to Saratoga, including Gamine (Test Stakes), McKinzie (Whitney or Woodward), Eight Rings (Allen Jerkens), and Uncle Chuck (Travers). Luis Saez rode Uncle Chuck to victory in the Los Alamitos Derby and has the call in the Travers. All of the other Baffert runners would need replacement riders.

Churchill Downs will open six weeks from now on Sept. 1. Opening week includes the Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5, the Kentucky Oaks on Sept. 4, and many lucrative supporting Stakes races usually run in the spring as part of Derby week. Leading jockeys from around the country are sure to congregate at Churchill during that first week in September, which could leave depleted jockey colonies at places like Saratoga and Del Mar as both tracks will race through Labor Day weekend.

Del Mar resumes Friday

Del Mar has drawn 11-race cards for Friday and Saturday as it resumes after last week’s cancellations due to the multiple COVID-19 positives among the jockey colony. Del Mar has also added an additional card on Monday (July 27) to help make up for last week’s cancellations.

Smith, who rode Authentic to a narrow victory last Saturday in the Haskell Stakes, will be allowed to ride at Del Mar. Smith remained out of town after finishing second aboard the filly Swiss Skydiver in the July 11 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. The Hall of Fame jockey has tested negative for coronavirus since returning to California and is named on two horses Friday.

Jockey Abel Cedillo has the call on Maximum Security in Saturday’s San Diego Handicap, replacing regular rider Saez. The 2019 champion three-year-old was transferred from trainer Jason Servis to Bob Baffert after Servis was one of 27 people indicted in federal court for possible horse doping related charges in March. This will be Maximum Security’s first start for Baffert.

Lindo Report Play for Gaming Today: Saratoga Thursday, Race 9: Mihos (No. 5). This James Jerkens colt did not care for the muddy track when no factor behind top class Code of Honor in the Westchester Stakes. He is best as a late-running sprinter and does best work from outside posts. He gets conditions to order.