Belmont Park will reopen for live racing the first week of June after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Saturday announced that horse racing statewide could begin June 1 under strict guidelines, which include no spectators.
In response to Cuomo’s announcement, the New York Racing Association did not announce an official start date for the Belmont meet, saying in a press release that dates and a stakes schedule will be announced in the very near future. June 1 is a Monday, typically a dark day on this circuit. Per the original racing calendar, the first day of racing in June at Belmont was scheduled for June 4.
Owing to the coronavirus pandemic, racing on this circuit has been shuttered since March 15.
In Saturday’s release, NYRA president and CEO Dave O’Rourke said by authorizing the resumption of racing, Cuomo made “a reasoned and responsible decision … that will enable horse racing to resume in a way that prioritizes health and safety while recognizing that NYRA is the cornerstone of an industry responsible for 19,000 jobs and $3 billion in annual economic impact.”
On Friday, O’Rourke told Daily Racing Form that he expected Belmont to run four days a week once it was given the green light to reopen.
Saturday, Martin Panza, NYRA’s senior vice president of racing operations, said he hoped to have a condition book and a revised stakes schedule out by Tuesday. Purses will most certainly be cut because for the last two months there has been no purse money generated from handle or from the casino at Aqueduct, which has been closed since mid-March and which funds approximately one-third of NYRA’s purses.
“We’ve got to get running,” Panza said. “Certainly, New York racing is important to the entire industry. It’s good that we get back.”
Panza said a new date for the Belmont Stakes - originally scheduled for June 6 - has not yet been finalized. Panza said NYRA is in talks with NBC about potential dates.
O’Rourke on Friday said he preferred to run the Belmont in late June, most likely at a distance shorter than its usual 1 ½ miles.
Saturday, at his daily coronavirus press briefing, Cuomo said horse racing was one of the sports that could operate without fans and still contribute to the economy and generate public interest.
“We can do that in this state with horse racing tracks and we’re going to do that,” Cuomo said. “There’ll be guidelines for the actual participants, but no crowds, no fans, but for the industry itself, for the televised viewers that can still work.”
A graphic that accompanied Cuomo’s announcement named all Thoroughbred and Standardbred tracks in the state, including Saratoga Race Course.
O’Rourke, on Friday, and Panza, on Saturday, both said they still want to open Saratoga for racing on July 16 as previously scheduled.
“I don’t think anything’s changed there,” Panza said. “We’re concentrating on Belmont at the moment.”
There has not been racing on this circuit since March 15 at Aqueduct. Four days later, the first coronavirus case on the Belmont Park backstretch was confirmed and racing operations were suspended. The final 19 days of the Aqueduct meet were canceled. Through May, 24 scheduled cards of the Belmont Park spring/summer meet will have been lost.
In April, NYRA submitted a plan to the state to allow it to run racing without spectators. NYRA conducted three days of racing at Aqueduct without fans in attendance and with limited personnel on the grounds. NYRA plans to add just 60 people to the approximate 800 people already on the backstretch in charge of the daily care of the horses stabled at Belmont.
NYRA’s plan includes restricting employee access to reduce density; protecting the community by enforcing strict social distancing; adjusting physical workspace; requiring protective measures such as facial coverings; and stopping the spread by continuing to screen, test and contact trace.
On Saturday, NYRA, in conjunction with Northwell Health, did antibody testing on more than 700 people, largely backstretch personnel at Belmont.
Horsemen naturally were happy to hear the news of a return to racing.
“I’m glad we have a date,” trainer Shug McGaughey said from Florida. “I’m looking forward to getting up there and getting going.”
McGaughey had shipped already shipped eight horses to Belmont and said he has another 11 or 12 leaving Florida on Sunday.
“We’re thrilled and gratified to have the ability to reopen,” said Joe Appelbaum, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. “As everyone knows, we’ve been operating right on through the crisis in the backstretch. We’ve learned an incredible amount on how to keep people safe. We want to show everyone we can continue to do that. The next couple of weeks will be filled with activity as all of us work hard to meet the guidance that gaming will issue.”
Privacy: We won’t share your data, or post to your wall, without your permission.
Already have a Wefunder account? Login
Don't have a Wefunder account? Signup