NYRA: Saratoga Race Course’s Summer Season Will Likely Occur Without Fans (Exclusive)

If you read yesterday’s recap of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s press briefing, you would’ve come across a brand-new catchphrase: “attractive nuisances.” These refer to any locations in any part of New York State that could potentially attract mass-gatherings of people from in or outside of the state, and in turn, increase the potential COVID-19 infection rate.

As we noted, attractive nuisances would likely include (and spell disaster for) Saratoga Race Course and Saratoga Performing Arts Center—and a cancellation of either season, particularly, the racetrack’s, would deal a massive economic blow to the Capital Region and Saratoga economies.

Near the end of Cuomo’s April 29 press briefing, a reporter asked him about what the “attractive nuisance” equation meant for the upcoming Saratoga Race Course season, and Cuomo responded:

“You can’t open an attraction that could bring people from across the state to that attraction and overwhelm a region. The State Fair in Syracuse, Saratoga racetrack…I don’t think we have time, first of all, but today, I don’t think you can open those unless we do it statewide. Because there is such a pent-up demand to get out of the house and do something. If you open the Saratoga racetrack, I guarantee you have the highest attendance in the history of the Saratoga racetrack. You will have people from the entire northeast region, driving to the Saratoga racetrack just because they want to get out of the house. Now, you could say that’s great for the Saratoga racetrack, but density is not our friend.

“Even when you talk about opening up a venue, you look at some of the pictures of some of the states that are already opening venues—two seats apart, six feet apart. How do you do six feet apart at the racetrack? How do you do six feet apart at the state fair? How do you do six feet apart at the state fair when you have double the attendance you’ve ever had and people are all crammed in there? I think it would have to be a statewide opening, coordinated with Connecticut, New Jersey…otherwise, you will have a much, much more dense situation, if you wind up being the only attraction in town, and ‘town’ is a tristate region.”

The New York Racing Association (NYRA), which had previously confirmed to Saratoga Living that the Saratoga Race Course summer meet would still be kicking off on July 16, has since changed its tune. When we reached out for comment based on Cuomo’s remarks, NYRA’s Director of Communications, Patrick McKenna, said this:

“NYRA joins the entire racing community in applauding Governor Cuomo’s steady leadership throughout this unprecedented public health crisis. We recognize that decisions about large scale events are rightly left to our elected leaders and public health officials. At the same time, horse racing is in a unique position as a sport that can be safely staged without attendees. Earlier this week, Governor Cuomo encouraged sports entities to consider how they could operate without fans in attendance that would be economically viable while providing much needed entertainment. By closing to spectators and reducing employees and support staff to only those who are required under the rules of racing, the running of races would support the small businesses and hourly workers, who form the backbone of the sport. NYRA held races at Aqueduct Racetrack safely and securely under these conditions through March 15. Our experience during this period of time, as well as our ability to continue the training operation at Belmont Park throughout the pandemic, informs the strict safety protocols that we currently have in place at Belmont Park and would seek to implement at Saratoga Race Course.

“As such, NYRA is seeking to resume live racing at Belmont Park in the absence of fans and we have prepared operating plans that follow the same model for Saratoga. These plans prioritize the health and safety of employees, horsemen and the backstretch community and include a broad array of risk mitigation strategies developed according to the most updated heath guidance. By closing to the public, layering additional health and safety protocols to our ongoing practices, and reducing the number of employees on-property, NYRA is in a position to provide a small sense of normalcy for fans across the country who can watch on television and online. At the same time, this model will enable NYRA to preserve its ability to serve as the cornerstone of an industry that generates more than 19,000 jobs in New York and $3 billion in annual economic impact.

“This is a delicate balance, and one that must always prioritize health and safety. NYRA has experience finding that balance and we are committed to taking every step possible to keep our communities safe while providing entertainment and contributing to the New York economy as we collectively begin the return to a new normal.”

The key here is NYRA’s saying that live racing will resume at Belmont and that the same plan will be in place for Saratoga. This is a developing story.

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