The New York Racing Association announced March 19 that live racing at Aqueduct Racetrack will be suspended until further notice because of changing circumstances in the racing community relative to COVID-19.
A backstretch worker who lives and works at Belmont Park tested positive Thursday morning for the virus. Following NYRA's Preparedness and Response Plan, the worker has been quarantined since developing symptoms March 13. His roommate was also quarantined at that time.
NYRA's Preparedness and Response Plan committee has established clear protocols and processes following the latest health guidance established by the New York State Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
"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," NYRA CEO and president Dave O'Rourke said. "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.
"We are focused on ensuring the health and safety of our entire backstretch community, as well as the horses in their care. 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, which consists of NYRA staff members as well as representatives from the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, the Backstretch Employee Service Team, and the New York Race Track Chaplaincy of America, has closely monitored and assessed COVID-19 developments over the past several weeks to develop key protocols to monitor and manage both the Aqueduct and Belmont properties.
"At this point in the COVID-19 crisis, we all need to be 100% focused on the health of our staff and the welfare of our horses," NYTHA president Joe Appelbaum said. "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."
Trainer Rudy Rodriguez, who is second in both starts (167) and wins (32) at Aqueduct, said he was "100% behind" any measure NYRA takes to safeguard the racing community.
"I'm disappointed to be sure, but we're all in the same boat and we have to stick together. I'm 100% behind (NYRA)," Rodriguez said. "We have to hope everyone stays healthy. I know they are trying to make the right decisions at a difficult time."
Rodriguez said he has 60 horses stabled at Belmont Park and employs close to 30 people. None of his workers have become ill at this point and he's hoping that continues so that his horses can receive the best possible care.
"Some people may not be able to work, but we have to make the best of it and try to get the horses out and moving the best we can," he said. "It's going to be difficult but we have to stick together and get through it and pray everyone comes out OK."
NYRA has contracted with multiple outside cleaning vendors following best practices established by the New York State Department of Health and the CDC.
A decision regarding the resumption of live racing and the upcoming Aqueduct stakes schedule, including the April 4 Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino (G2), will be made later.
The Belmont Park backstretch and its facilities remain open to horsemen and operational for training. Owners will not be permitted access to the backstretch until further notice. NYRA had closed stabling and training at Aqueduct permanently as of Jan. 1 due to unrelated circumstances.
Additional reporting by Bob Ehalt