As of March 28, New York City’s Queens has the most active COVID-19 cases of any of the five boroughs with more than 9,000. And the New York Racing Association (NYRA), which runs the temporarily empty racetrack in the middle of it, has decided to lend a helping hand.
Earlier today, NYRA announced that live racing at Aqueduct Racetrack would be cancelled for the remainder of the winter and spring meets, with the building set to serve as a temporary hospital for COVID-19 patients. This comes after New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Friday that the state would seek federal approval to construct a temporary patient overflow facility there, which will include more than 1,000 beds. Today, the Governor announced that the proper approvals had been obtained.
“NYRA and the New York racing community are thankful for Governor Cuomo’s steady leadership during this unprecedented public health crisis, and we stand ready to assist in any way we can,” said NYRA CEO and President Dave O’Rourke, in a statement. “The governor’s ability to quickly marshal all available resources is saving lives and inspiring action both here in New York and across the nation. O’Rourke went on to say: “Now that Gov. Cuomo has secured the federal approval, Aqueduct Racetrack will serve as a safe haven for those recovering from this virus. We recognize that we all must work together as a community to meet this challenge and emerge stronger for it. NYRA also joins the governor in extending our deepest gratitude to the first responders, medical professionals and volunteers who continue to operate on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19.”
NYRA’s next big hurdle is what to do about the upcoming, 51-day spring/summer meet at Belmont Park, which features 58 total stakes races worth $18.65 million and is set to begin on Friday, April 24, running through Sunday, July 1. (Earlier this week, a NYRA rep told Saratoga Living that the Saratoga Race Course summer meet was still scheduled to begin on July 16.)
“NYRA is continuing to strategize the safest options for a return to racing at Belmont Park, while prioritizing the health and welfare of our staff and the racing community,” said O’Rourke. “A revised live racing schedule is an ongoing consideration, but secondary to our primary commitment to the health and well-being of the community.”
At press time, the 152nd running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes—the third leg of the Triple Crown—is still slated to run on Saturday, June 6, despite the fact that the usual first leg, the Kentucky Derby, has been pushed back to September.