A year after the COVID-19 pandemic jumbled the Triple Crown calendar, the sport will once again bask in the national spotlight on the first Saturday in May with the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby.
But as the nation’s top trainers take center stage at Churchill Downs, it’s in stark contrast to 12 months earlier when racing’s most prominent figures were taking full advantage of the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program.
According to public records examined by the Asbury Park Press, some 14 trainers in this year’s Kentucky Derby received a combined $7.369 million from the program, which provided taxpayer-funded forgivable loans designed to help struggling small businesses retain workers.
The top 25 trainers on the earnings list in 2020, whose horses won a combined $206.5 million on the track, secured loans totaling at least $10.4 million, while some of the sport’s top institutions made use of the coronavirus bailout.
Brad Cox trains favored Essential Quality for Godolphin LLC, owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and prime minster of the United Arab Emirates. Cox received a $550,000 loan.
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Todd Pletcher has four horses entered including Known Agenda for St. Elias Stable, the racing operation of Florida Panthers owner Vinnie Viola. Pletcher secured the second-largest payout among trainers nationally at $1.294 million.
The biggest loan went to Chad Brown, with the trainer of Highly Motivated getting $1.767 million.
Bob Baffert, the sport’s most identifiable figure, won 2020 Kentucky Derby with Authentic, who bankrolled nearly $6 million for winning in the Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic. Baffert received a PPP loan for $556,187.
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Baffert will look to win his record seventh Kentucky Derby with Medina Spirit, owned by Saudi Arabian businessman and philanthropist Amr Zedan.
Other Kentucky Derby trainers who received loans include:
- Steve Asmussen ($1.088 million)
- Brad Cox ($550,000)
- John Sadler ($449,2370)
- Peter Miller ($425,000)
- Ken McPeek ($424,384)
- Doug O’Neill ($366,947)
- Mark Casse ($296,571)
- Robertino Diodoro ($239,206)
- Vicki Oliver ($116,200)
- Greg Foley ($91,839)
- Wesley Ward ($70,722)
The $649 billion Paycheck Protection Program was instituted to help small businesses cover payroll and other key expenses during the pandemic, providing forgivable loans of up to $10 million.
It’s unclear if the recipients paid some or all of the money back, but what is clear is that the industry leaned heavily on the program as racing days were lost and purses trimmed.
The New York Racing Association, which operates Belmont Park, Aqueduct and Saratoga, and was shut down from March 15 to June 1, got a $10 million loan, listing 453 jobs impacted. Monmouth Park, which had its opening delayed two months, got $2.319 million.
Many racetracks lost racing dates, and were either prohibited from having fans or faced strict attendance limits. Among other tracks that got relief were Del Mar ($2.814 million), Emerald Downs ($2.133 million), Tampa Bay Down ($1.68 million), Kentucky Downs ($1.68 million) and Turf Paradise ($1.477 million).
And it wasn’t just trainer and racetracks using the PPP program.
West Point Thoroughbreds, an industry innovator in racing partnerships, received $232,675. Winchell Thoroughbreds, a racing and breeding operation that campaigned champion filly Untapable, got a $157,900 loan.
Farms in the most important areas for thoroughbred breeding, development and sales took advantage of the program, including Wavertree Stables, in Ocala, Florida, which received a $296,243 loan, and Brilliant Stables in Paris, Kentucky, which received $293,000, while Millennium Farms in Lexington, Kentucky got a $238,500 loan.
The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation in Saratoga Spring, New York, received $171, 400, the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau in Elkton, Maryland got $179,347 and the Backstretch Employee Service Team of New York got $134,106.
Several jockeys are listed as having received loans as well, including Kendrick Carmouche ($20,800) and Drayden Van Dyke ($20,833).
Locally, trainers who stabled horses at Monmouth Park sought relief, including Jerry Hollendorfer ($353,142), Michael Stidham ($301,519), Kent Sweezey ($114,200), Jane Cibelli ($93,051), Ben Perkins ($40,000), Pat McBurney ($26,455) and Wayne Potts ($20,832).
The New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, which leases Monmouth Park, got a $16,100 loan.
Here are the top-25 trainers from 2020 who received PPP loans:
Rank Trainer PPP loan purse money won
1. Steve Asmussen $1,088,000 $19,969,514
2. Bob Baffert $556,187 $19,140,487
3. Brad H. Cox $550,000 $18,991,552
4. Chad C. Brown $1,767,600 $16,596,956
6. Mark Casse $296,571 $11,396,030
7. Todd A Pletcher $1,294,412 $11,200,790
8. William Mott $395,500 $9,467,346
9. Christophe Clement $507,100 $6,227,813
10. Peter Miller $425,000 $6,134,655
11. Wesley Ward $70,722 $6,106,095
12. Robertino Diodoro $239,206 $6,042,443
14. Bret Calhoun $80,200 $5,575,054
15. Jamie Ness $157,933 $5,244,920
17. Ken McPeek $424,284 $5,180,764
18. Richard Baltas $314,272 $5,157,398
19. Saffie Joseph $66,400 $4,994,188
20. Tom Amoss $366,047 $4,812,411
21. Doug O’Neill $366,947 $4,422,371
22. Michael Stidham $301,519 $4,306,027
23. Graham Motion $503,547 $4,183,483
24. Michael Trombetta $246,300 $4,132,422
25. John Sadler $449,237 $4,108920