New York governor Andrew Cuomo gives go-ahead for racing to return from June 1
Horseracing in New York on Saturday took a major step towards resumption when New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced racetracks may begin to conduct behind-closed-doors racing from June 1.
In response to Cuomo's directive, which covers thoroughbred and standard-bred tracks, the New York Racing Association did not immediately release an opening date for Belmont Park.
Instead, the NYRA said it will announce in the "very near future" items such as a start-up date, stakes schedule and condition book.
That announcement is expected to come early next week after the NYRA receives the necessary approvals from the New York State Gaming Commission. Information is also anticipated on the Belmont Stakes, which is scheduled for June 6 but could be run on a revised date and over a shorter distance than the traditional 1m½f.
"We are more nuanced in our analysis, looking for economic activities that you can start without crowds and without gatherings," Cuomo said Saturday during his daily Covid-19 briefing.
"Remember, the problem here are crowds and gatherings. So what can you do? Or what economic activity is willing to reopen without a crowd? They're talking about this in terms of sports. You can have baseball without a crowd, but it can still be televised. Great. You can have economic activity without a crowd, that's great.
"We can do that in this state with horseracing tracks, and we're going to do that. There will be guidelines for the actual participants, but no crowds, no fans. But for the industry itself, for the televised viewers, that can still work."
'This is a reasoned and responsible decision'
In a statement issued on Saturday, NYRA president and CEO Dave O'Rourke said: "NYRA and the New York racing community are thankful for Governor Cuomo's steady leadership throughout this public health crisis and we applaud his decision to authorise the resumption of horseracing, without fans, beginning on June 1.
"This is a reasoned and responsible decision by Governor Cuomo that will enable horseracing to resume in a way that prioritises health and safety while recognising that NYRA is the cornerstone of an industry responsible for 19,000 jobs and $3 billion in annual economic impact."
O'Rourke said the NYRA has enacted a safety plan with extensive protocols that have kept the racing community at Belmont Park as safe as possible, while caring for and training the horses stabled there during the pandemic.
"NYRA has developed a comprehensive safety plan that builds on our experience of operating training safely and responsibly during the pandemic, and includes extensive protocols to keep our community safe," the statement read.
"With this safety plan in place, NYRA will announce race dates and a corresponding stakes schedule for the 2020 spring/summer meet at Belmont Park in the very near future."
A lifeline for New York racing community
The news that racing can resume served as a lifeline for NYRA's wintertime owners and trainers whose horses have been unable to race for two months after racing was suspended following three days of races without fans on March 13-15 at Aqueduct.
New York City and Nassau County, where Aqueduct and Belmont Park are located, have been ravaged by Covid-19 with a combined total of more than 233,000 confirmed cases and 22,000 deaths. One of those was 63-year-old Martin Zapata, a Belmont Park backstretch worker for trainer Tom Morley who died April 7.
As of May 13 at Belmont Park, there were 18 backstretch workers in quarantine and 47 workers who have been released from quarantine, with no current hospitalisations.
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