If the New York Racing Association is going to hold a racing season at Saratoga, with or without fans, it had better come with a detailed, reasonable, workable plan that puts the safety of local citizens and track employees above all else.
The covid crisis is still heavily upon us and will continue to be well into the summer months, despite the unscientifically rosy picture painted by the Trump administration.
Many people are still getting seriously ill. Many are still dying every day. Our medical system is still overwhelmed. And we still don’t have enough reliable testing, a vaccine or a treatment to curb the spread —conditions that will not go away just because the sun sets later in the day.
So no matter how much we want to experience the thrill of horse racing at Saratoga, there’s just no way to pull it off the same way as it’s always been done.
If some part of the season can be salvaged, NYRA will have to consider a number of factors in presenting a plan to the state.
First off, putting 25,000 to 40,000 people inside the gates every day and not risking a spike in covid cases would be impossible.
Unlike a baseball stadium or hockey arena, you can’t separate people into sections to keep them safe. People mill about at the track. They go to the betting windows. They go to the concession areas.
They stand along the rail. So no, even if they limit attendance, having spectators is out of the question.
Someone online suggested setting up video screens in area parking lots like a drive-in movie theater, where people would be able to watch races from their cars and bet from their phones. Would something like that be feasible? Would fans come? Let’s see the plan.
Perhaps the only way to salvage any of the season, and the economic benefits it brings, would be if the meet was held without fans.
And even that will be a tall order.
If NYRA is going to do that, it will need a plan for keeping its workers safe and keeping them from spreading the virus to the surrounding community. A plan similar to those being considered by other major sports for quarantining staff to the site and regularly testing them would have to be worked out.
Those staying off the track campus would have to be quarantined at a local hotel and bused back and forth to the track, with social separation and testing strictly enforced.
Food, beverage, medical and veterinary services, and other deliveries would have to be strictly restricted and monitored to ensure the virus doesn’t travel onto or off of the site.
Having the track workers here will help support local food and beverage establishments and the local equine businesses needed to provide services to the track. That, at least, could provide some financial relief for the local economy, as opposed to none if they canceled the season altogether.
Any large public gatherings this summer will result in a perpetuation of the outbreak and result in many more illnesses and deaths.
But if NYRA thinks it can pull off the racing season safely, it should at least be given a chance to submit a plan for state approval.
We’ll see what happens from there.