SARATOGA SPRINGS — Annnd … they’re off.
As in, almost all proof of vaccination and other restrictions and requirements are off the list of rules for fans at Saratoga Race Course this summer, opening the grounds to 100% capacity when the 153rd meet opens on July 15.
The development comes a day after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo removed many health protocols at most public places, including outdoor sports venues, in light of the state reaching 70% of adult New Yorkers having received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
The New York Racing Association had announced on May 27 that Saratoga would be open to near capacity, provided patrons showed proof of full vaccination, with a few sections of the grandstand designated for non-vaccinated people who would be subject to social distancing and other protocols.
Now, fans will be allowed in without showing proof of vaccination, which applies to all areas that are open to the public within the facility, including the popular backyard picnic area.
Season admission passes and weekly plans went on sale last Wednesday with a proof of vaccination requirement, but that has been dropped.
Single-day tickets will go on sale at 10 a.m. next Wednesday, June 23, via Ticketmaster.com. Single-day dining reservations in the Turf Terrace, The Porch and Club Terrace will be accepted beginning at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, June 30, also at Ticketmaster.com.
“As New Yorkers collectively reach this major milestone in the fight against COVID-19, NYRA thanks Governor Cuomo for his leadership in achieving this goal and for the opportunity to welcome fans back to Saratoga this summer,”NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke said in a release. “This season will be a celebration like no other in Saratoga’s long and storied history and we are thrilled to open the gates to the best fans in racing in just a few short weeks.”
Non-vaccinated individuals will be required to wear a facial covering at Saratoga, in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
Proof of vaccination, via the New York State Excelsior Pass, will still come in handy on opening day, as that will grant free grandstand admission to anyone with the digital pass. Fans from outside New York will be admitted free with a CDC COVID-19 vaccine record card.
Prior to opening day, fans will be allowed to watch morning workouts on the Oklahoma Training Track at the Whitney Viewing Stand starting on Saturday, June 26. Viewing hours will be 7-10 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays until the meet starts.
Belmont Park will fully re-open next Thursday, when $5 walk-up general admission will be available.
NEW SPA VENUES
NYRA is also converting some spaces into reserved hospitality areas, while also expanding The Stretch with 15 more lounge boxes in Section T of the Grandstand.
The Tailgate at the Turn will include 16 designated drive-up picnic areas for parties of up to six people on the rail along the first turn adjacent to the 1863 Club.
This area will include a hospitality tent with large-screen TVs, betting machines and bar service.
The Spa Verandas will take over the Top of the Stretch reserved picnic table area and will include six covered sections designed to accommodate up to 45 people each.
The Spa Verandas will feature lounge furniture, mounted TVs, betting machines and private access to the track apron for rail side viewing on the clubhouse turn.
As reported by The Daily Racing Form, NYRA has gained approval from the New York Racing Franchise Oversight Board to build a backstretch retaining wall at Belmont that would serve as the first step toward building a tunnel to the infield.
Besides providing access to construction vehicles to work on the track surfaces, the tunnel could provide a means for allowing fans into the infield for big events, NYRA told the DRF, like Churchill Downs does for the Kentucky Derby and Pimlico for the Preakness.
Public outdoor space at Belmont Park has been significantly reduced by construction behind the grandstand of the UBS Arena, which will be the new home of the New York Islanders next season.
Tunnel construction is expected to begin in 2022.
LATEST BAFFERT NEWS
According to The Associated Press, a Kentucky judge has granted representatives of trainer Bob Baffert and the owners of Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit much of the horse’s split urine sample to be further tested for betamethasone and other substances.
The Hall of Fame trainer and Zedan Racing Stables last week sued the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission for remnants of Medina Spirit’s urine to prove that traces of the steroid in his system came from a topical ointment rather than an injection. At issue was the division of approximately 25 to 27 milliliters of the sample and how it would be transported to an unspecified New York laboratory.
Franklin County Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Wingate on Wednesday granted the plaintiffs 20 ml of the sample and 5 ml to the KHRC, with the commission receiving any unused portion. The lab will use only the amount “absolutely necessary” to test for betamethasone valerate, gentamicin and clotrimazole, the judge ruled.
Additionally, two representatives from both sides will accompany the sample to New York to observe its defrosting and division for testing, the AP story said. The plaintiffs will pay for the private plane for transport.
Medina Spirit risks having last month’s Kentucky Derby victory stripped following a failed postrace drug test that revealed the substance. Churchill Downs suspended Baffert for two years for a recent spate of failed drug tests by his horses.
NYRA subsequently suspended Baffert temporarily from running horses and stabling at Belmont, Saratoga and Aqueduct.
Baffert sued in federal court Monday to get that suspension lifted.
In response, NYRA communications director Patrick McKenna said NYRA “took this action to protect the integrity of the sport for our fans, the betting public and racing participants following Mr. Baffert’s public acknowledgment that the Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for betamethasone,” while noting that Baffert horses had failed drug tests in the recent past.
“NYRA will vigorously defend the action it has taken in this matter,” McKenna said.
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