The New York Racing Association announced on March 19 that live racing at the Aqueduct Racetrack would be suspended indefinitely after a track worker tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday morning.
Aqueduct took in over $17 million in wagers last weekend as it conducted its Friday, Saturday, and Sunday races without fan attendance. The race track was planning on continuing to host its live racing schedule with only essential racetrack staff (including jockeys, trainers, assistant trainers, grooms, and stewards) this weekend.
Aqueduct changes its plans as coronavirus strikes
“The health and safety of employees, fans, horsemen and the backstretch community is paramount,” NYRA CEO & President Dave O’Rourke told the New York Post earlier this week. “Now that we have experienced racing under these conditions for three days, we remain confident in our ability to safely conduct racing operations behind closed doors and with only the staff that are required under the rules of racing in New York. Of course, we will constantly evaluate this situation over the coming days in advance of Friday and make further adjustments as necessary.”
Adjustments were indeed required when a backstretch worker who lives and works at Belmont Park tested positive for the COVID-19 virus Thursday. The Belmont Park facilities are roughly nine miles away from Aqueduct Racetrack and are home to over 500 people in charge of taking care of local horses. Belmont Park is currently out of season, so all of the current focus in the area is on the Aqueduct meet. The worker who has contracted the coronavirus reportedly started showing symptoms of the disease last Friday.
“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,” O’Rourke reported 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.”
The timing is unfortunate as horse racing is thriving
Horse racing has been thriving in recent weeks as it has taken center stage in the sports world with major leagues including the NBA, NHL, and MLB all currently shut down due to the virus. “Our numbers — viewers and wagering — looked a lot more like Breeders’ Cup weekend than a normal weekend in March,” FanDuel President Kip Levin said of last weekend’s racing action.
But with audiences banned from attending as guidelines to avoid large groups of people have swept the nation, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes have already been postponed until September. Some tracks have continued to operate without fans while others have suspended operations.
With the decision coming down yesterday, Aqueduct joins a growing list of tracks that are being forced out of action by the disease. The NYRA has been using outside cleaning vendors to comply with the best practices set out by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the New York State Department of Health in regards to the coronavirus outbreak. It will likely continue to seek the guidance of these organizations in deciding when to resume its racing schedule.