Yes, Saratoga Race Course is going to be opening without fans this summer. That much we know. But as far as the New York Racing Association (NYRA) is concerned, it’s still “business as usual” behind the scenes. On May 29 (today), NYRA announced that Saratoga Race Course’s Oklahoma Training Track, which had originally been scheduled to open on April 15, will finally open on Thursday, June 4. The barn area at the Oklahoma will open to horsemen two days prior.
Historically, the opening of the Oklahoma and its facilities across the street from the main racetrack marks the unofficial beginning to the Saratoga racing season. The Oklahoma, which first opened in 1904, features both dirt and turf track surfaces.
Sadly, this year, the Oklahoma will serve only as a tease to visitors, driving into Saratoga along Union Avenue, as well as residents, as it and the Whitney Viewing Stand will be closed to both the public and horse owners. (It’s usually a popular tourist hub, as well as training track.) Access will be restricted to essential personnel duly licensed by NYRA and the New York State Gaming Commission (NYSGC).
NYRA has implemented a comprehensive set of health and safety protocols designed to protect employees, horsemen, backstretch workers and the Saratoga community, while the training track is open. For example, all personnel working at the Oklahoma must test negative for the COVID-19 virus or test positive for its antibodies. This applies to both local workers, as well as those arriving from other regions. All personnel on the property will also be required to complete a daily health screening and temperature check conducted by trained EMTs. Additionally, face masks or coverings and adherence to strict social distancing measures will be mandatory at all times, and NYRA will provide all involved with the requisite masks and personal protective equipment.
At this point, the Saratoga summer meet is still scheduled to begin on July 16 and run through September 7. It’s unclear whether this date will be pushed back (or the training season shortened) based on the region’s reopening plan. Just yesterday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo delayed phase two for the first five regions able to reopen. Whether that delay will affect the Capital Region remains to be seen.