Saturday is Derby Day in the Thoroughbred racing world.
But it will also be Opening Day for fans at Belmont Park, even though the spring-summer meet began last Thursday.
As in, the gates will finally open to allow spectators on the grounds.
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on April 14 that fans can return to racetracks in New York as of April 23, and on Monday, he bumped up the allowable capacity from 20% to 33% starting on May 19.
In the two weeks since the April 14 announcement, the New York Racing Association has been working with the state to finalize details on how to conduct live racing with fans in attendance.
Based on the 20% limit and total seating capacity at Belmont, including picnic tables and benches, a maximum of roughly 7,000 spectators will be permitted to attend the races on Saturday.
The 2021 Saratoga meet doesn’t begin until July 15, so it’s still unclear how many people will be allowed through the gates.
In the meantime, Belmont will be open to admission on a daily basis, under a variety of health and safety rules and restrictions, including a requirement to show proof of full vaccination from COVID-19 or a negative COVID PCR test within 72 hours of admission.
Also, there will be no walk-up ticketing, and all purchases must be made online in advance at NYRA.com.
“NYRA has been working collectively toward this goal since the start of the pandemic and we are thrilled to be able to welcome fans back to Belmont Park,” NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke said in a release. “We thank our fans for their loyalty and support over this challenging year and look forward to the spring and summer ahead.”
Except for a few dozen racehorse owners who have been permitted to attend on days when their horses run, the doors have been closed at Belmont, Saratoga Race Course and Aqueduct since last March.
NYRA is prepared to adjust admission protocols if CDC and New York State alter COVID-19 vaccination and/or testing requirements.
Daily tickets to Belmont Park will be available for $15 and will include track admission, a reserved seat in the clubhouse, a pocket program and reserved parking. Assigned seating is mandatory, and groups will be physically separated within all seating areas to ensure social distancing. On-site wagering will be available.
Following opening weekend, Belmont Park will be open to limited spectators on all live race days.
There will be no walk-up ticket sales of any kind. In order to enter Belmont Park, tickets must be presented digitally via a mobile device through Ticketmaster.com or the NYRA Account Manager.
All ticketed spectators must complete a health questionnaire and submit to a contactless temperature check prior to entering Belmont Park. The required health questionnaire will be emailed to ticketed spectators prior to the event date and must be completed within 12 hours of gates opening.
Facial coverings are mandatory for all ticketed spectators and personnel at all times.
Food and beverage options will be available for purchase, and during opening weekend, outside coolers will not be permitted at Belmont Park.
Social distancing will be enforced throughout the property, including in the area surrounding the paddock and length of the apron.
Ticketing information for the 2021 Belmont Stakes Racing Festival will be released in the near future.
More from The Daily Gazette: