Midway through last month, Churchill Downs fired the first warning shots in the horse racing world, regarding the quickly spreading COVID-19 virus, when it pushed back the Kentucky Derby from May to September. The Maryland Jockey Club, who oversees the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course, then confirmed that it had delayed the second leg of the Triple Crown. (A new date has yet to be announced.) That left the horse racing community and fans waiting with bated breath for a response from the New York Racing Association (NYRA) about what it was going to do about the third and final leg, the highly coveted Belmont Stakes. Today (April 16), NYRA announced that the opening of the Belmont Park spring/summer meet would be delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, without question casting serious doubt on when the Belmont would be run. It’s still scheduled for June 6, though NYRA says that it’s already exploring later dates.
The news comes on the heels of news early today that New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo had extended the statewide work-from-home order until May 15. That runs in direct counterpoint with Opening Day at Belmont, which was scheduled to take place on April 24. The Belmont spring/summer meet lasts for 51 days and runs through July 12, just four days before Opening Day at Saratoga Race Course. NYRA has confirmed to Saratoga Living that Saratoga’s track is still on schedule to open on July 16 as planned. (This, of course, is seemingly a fluid situation, as NYRA recently delayed the opening of the Oklahoma Training Track, the usual “unofficial” start to Saratoga’s track season).
“We are working closely with the New York State Gaming Commission and public health officials to determine a timeline for the resumption of live racing at Belmont Park,” said NYRA CEO and President Dave O’Rourke, in a prepared statement. “The health and safety of our racing community is paramount, and any decisions or necessary adjustments to the racing schedule and operations must reflect that priority. I’d like to thank New York’s horsemen and the backstretch community for their dedication and patience as we navigate these uncertain times together.” Speaking about the Belmont Stakes, in particular, O’Rourke said: “The Belmont Stakes is a New York institution and American tradition. We are committed to running the race in 2020 and aim to deliver an announcement in the very near future.”
Per NYRA, beginning on April 17, trainers who previously stabled their Thoroughbreds at Belmont will be allowed to ship in horses who have been relocated during the COVID-19 crisis. NYRA has prohibited outsider shippers to be accompanied by staff not previously working at Belmont.
The Belmont backstretch, which is home to 585 workers who care for 1,300-plus Thoroughbreds currently stabled there, has remained open to horsemen and is open for training. Owners will not be allowed into the backstretch area until further notice.
The last NYRA track to conduct live racing was Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, NY, on March 15.