The New York Racing Association (NYRA) has been largely silent about its plans for the upcoming Saratoga Race Course season in Saratoga Springs—for obvious reasons. But today came some ominous news, which doesn’t bode well for New York horse racing fans in the short term. NYRA announced that live racing at Aqueduct Racetrack and racing operations would be suspended until further notice due to COVID-19 pandemic.
A backstretch worker, who lives and works at Belmont Park, tested positive this morning for the coronavirus. Following NYRA’s Preparedness and Response Plan, the worker has been quarantined since developing symptoms the morning of Friday, March 13. His roommate was also quarantined.
“This individual and his roommate have been in isolation since prior to racing last Friday and as such did not travel to Aqueduct for live racing,” said NYRA CEO and President Dave O’Rourke in a statement. “We are working with the County and State departments of health to ensure proper quarantine and sterilization practices will continue to be followed moving forward.”
NYRA’s Preparedness and Response Plan Committee is following the lead, daily, of the New York State Department of Health and the US Centers for Disease Control. “We are focused on ensuring the health and safety of our entire backstretch community, as well as the horses in their care,” added O’Rourke. “Accordingly, we are immediately suspending racing operations until further notice to devote all our attention and resources to this effort.”
The Preparedness and Response Plan Committee, comprised of key NYRA staff members as well as representatives from the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (NYTHA), the Backstretch Employee Service Team (BEST) and the New York Race Track Chaplaincy of America (NYRTCA), have been monitoring and assessing developments regarding the COVID-19 outbreak for the past several weeks and are making decisions about how to manage both the Aqueduct and Belmont tracks, fluidly.
“At this point in the COVID-19 crisis, we all need to be 100 percent focused on the health of our staff and the welfare of our horses,” said NYTHA President Joe Appelbaum. “When the industry comes out the other side of this—and we will—having as many healthy horses and humans as possible will be paramount.”