Spectators will be locked out; now the jockeys will pretty much be locked in.
There will be no fans in attendance when the 152nd Saratoga Race Course meet opens on Thursday because of New York state COVID-19 restrictions, and the New York Racing Association has implemented a new policy that closes the track to out-of-town riders and will bar Saratoga jockeys from returning if they ship out to race somewhere else.
The move comes in the wake of some high-profile riders, who frequently travel around the country for select mounts in big stakes races, having tested positive for COVID, most recently Florent Geroux.
Under the new restrictions, Saratoga is closed to out-of-town jockeys, and any member of the NYRA jockey colony who leaves Saratoga to ride at any other track will not be allowed back for the duration of the meet, which ends on Sept. 7.
It should create some interesting dilemmas for riders whose best horses run out of town, whether that town, for them, is Saratoga or somewhere else, especially if other tracks follow suit and impose their own lockdowns.
For example, this means that Hall of Famer Mike Smith, based in California, won’t be on champion Midnight Bisou if she runs in the Personal Ensign, as intended, on Aug. 1.
Irad Ortiz, Jr.’s agent, Steve Rushing, told the Daily Racing Form that Ortiz would surrender the mount on Dr Post, runner-up to Tiz the Law in the Belmont Stakes, in Saturday’s Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.
Later Tuesday, the Maryland Jockey Club announced that jockeys coming from another state would have to self-quarantine for 14 days and produce a negative COVID-19 test before they could ride at the Maryland tracks.
“These measures prioritize the health and safety of the jockeys competing in New York, and are designed to combat the spread of COVID-19,” NYRA president and CEO Dave O’Rourke said in a release. “Unfortunately, the restrictive travel policies implemented today have become necessary as cases continue to rise in states across the country.”
Geroux, who is based in Kentucky but shipped to Belmont Park last weekend to ride Monomoy Girl in the Ruffian, announced via Twitter on Tuesday morning:
“I have tested positive for COVID-19. I’m currently feeling well, quarantined, and looking forward to rejoining the racetrack when I’m cleared. Thank you everyone for the well wishes. Stay safe!”
Last week, Hall of Famer Victor Espinoza, New York-based Luis Saez and Martin Garcia announced that they had tested positive.
“We’ve been discussing these kinds of protocols in light of what we have seen now in an increasing number of states,” NYRA communications director Pat McKenna said. “This is a common-sense approach at this point that prioritizes the health and safety of the NYRA riding colony.
“These are measures that have the broad support of the riders in the room, the Jockeys’ Guild, NYTHA, the rank-and-file membership. I think everyone here is interested in being able to contend the safest meet possible, and to the extent that travel restrictions allow us to continue on that aspect of the operation, it’s a good thing.”
“Under these circumstances, this is a common-sense approach to add a layer of protection for jockeys and ensure a safe and successful meet here in Saratoga,” Jockeys’ Guild president and CEO Terry Meyocks said in the release. “Our membership stands in full support of these new travel protocols and we will continue to work closely with NYRA as this situation continues to evolve and change.”
“Health and safety need to come first as conditions around the country remain uncertain and inconsistent from state to state,” New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association president Joe Appelbaum said. “We are confident that these restrictions will support a successful summer at Saratoga and mitigate risk for these world class athletes.”
The 2020 Saratoga Summer Condition Book currently lists 22 active jockeys and three apprentice riders. This group is to be considered the regular NYRA jockey colony.
Out-of-town jockeys that are not currently riding at another racetrack may be considered for inclusion in the regular NYRA jockey colony provided the jockey does not ride at another racetrack beginning on Thursday.
Any jockey that rides at a racetrack outside of Saratoga beginning Thursday will be considered an out-of-town jockey and will not be permitted at Saratoga.
All personnel working at Saratoga Race Course in any capacity are required by NYRA to produce a negative COVID-19 test in order to access the property. This policy is inclusive of jockeys, valets, NYRA employees, trainers and their staff, outside vendors and credentialed media.
In addition to race day safety protocols including standard health screening and temperature check, the jockey quarters at Saratoga have been substantially altered to provide maximum social distancing and reduce density. All areas accessed by jockeys during the regular course of a race day are closed to all outside personnel, including credentialed media, and are cleaned and disinfected throughout the day.
Jockeys and valets are not permitted access to the barn area. In order to work a horse in the morning, the jockey must meet the horse in the paddock and can then proceed to the main track.
Jockey agents must produce a negative COVID-19 test in order to gain access to the barn area. Races will continue to be drawn via Zoom.
NYRA offers a limited number of steeplechase races on Wednesdays and Thursdays during the summer meet. NYRA has consulted with the National Steeplechase Association on specific safety protocols to be followed by the steeplechase jockeys.
This group of jockeys must produce a negative COVID-19 test in order to access the property and will be completely isolated from the regular NYRA jockey colony in a physically separate location. Following that day’s steeplechase race, which will be carded as race one, the steeplechase jockeys will depart the property.
NYRA will follow current Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and New York State Health Department guidance when determining the return of a jockey who has tested positive for COVID-19. This process will include a period of quarantine determined by the severity of the individual case followed by a series of diagnostic tests to rule out ongoing infection. NYRA will consider allowing a jockey to resume racing or training activities on NYRA property only when his or her physician has provided clearance to do so.