Start of Belmont Park spring meet delayed

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: April 17, 2020

The Belmont Park spring/summer meet will not begin as scheduled on April 24, and the Grade I Belmont Stakes, scheduled for June 6, could be run at a later date, the New York Racing Association said April 16.

The delay stems from the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and its ongoing impact on New York. NYRA already had canceled the latter part of Aqueduct Racetrack winter meet and the track’s short spring meet because of the situation.

The Belmont spring meet is scheduled to run through July 12.

“We are working closely with the New York State Gaming Commission and public health officials to determine a timeline for the resumption of live racing at Belmont Park,” NYRA Chief Executive Officer and President Dave O’Rourke said. “The health and safety of our racing community is paramount, and any decisions or necessary adjustments to the racing schedule and operations must reflect that priority.

“I’d like to thank New York’s horsemen and the backstretch community for their dedication and patience as we navigate these uncertain times together.”

As for the Belmont Stakes, O’Rourke said: “The Belmont Stakes is a New York institution and American tradition. We are committed to running the race in 2020 and aim to deliver an announcement in the very near future.”

The Grade I Kentucky Derby, orginally scheduled for May 2, was moved by Churchill Downs to Sept. 5 because of the COVID-19 shutdown of live racing. The Maryland Jockey Club has not yet announced at date for the Grade I Preakness Stakes, which would have been run May 16. Racing in Maryland has been suspended since mid-March.

NYRA also provided an updated for horsemen regarding shipping.

“Beginning April 17, and with specific approval required by NYRA, trainers previously stabled at Belmont will be allowed to ship in horses who have been relocated during the COVID-19 crisis,” the association said. “To align with health department guidance and reduce the spread of the coronavirus, NYRA will not allow the outsider shippers to be accompanied by staff not previously working at Belmont.”

The Belmont stable area, home to more than 1,300 horses and  585 backstretch employees, has remained open to horsemen and has been operational for training. Owners are not permitted access to the backstretch until further notice.

The following practices and protocols devised by the NYRA Preparedness and Response Plan Committee have been in place since early March:

  • NYRA is following best practices established by the New York State Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control with regard to cleaning high-touch areas and facilities.
  • Coronavirus-related signage in English and Spanish has been posted across the backstretch noting key information regarding social distancing, hand-washing techniques, and a hotline to call for workers feeling the onset of symptoms.
  • Access to enter Belmont was restricted to Gate 6 and all workers, including licensed horsemen, that do not live on the backstretch are subject to a standard health assessment including temperature check.
  • The Belmont Park grounds are closed to ship-in horses with the exception of horses in extenuating circumstances subject to NYRA.
  • To eliminate congestion and encourage social distancing, a number of common areas have been closed or had their service modified including the recreation center, Morning Line café, track kitchen and clockers’ stand. The Morning Line café and track kitchen are providing grab-and-go food options to align with guidance from the New York State Department of Health. The clockers’ stand has been closed to all but essential safety personnel.

Belmont Park photo courtesy of NYRA