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Aqueduct suspends racing until further notice

Aqueduct suspends racing until further notice

Backstretch worker at Belmont Park tests positive for COVID-19
Aqueduct suspends racing until further notice
The field breaks from the starting gate for the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Racetrack on April 6, 2019.
Photographer: Susie Raisher/NYRA photo

NEW YORK -- They tried to keep running races while keeping the public out.

But the coronavirus got in, so now Aqueduct Racetrack has suspended live racing until further notice.

The New York Racing Association announced Thursday afternoon "due to changing circumstances in the racing community relative to the coronavirus (COVID-19)."

A backstretch worker who lives and works at Belmont Park developed symptoms last Friday morning and tested positive Thursday morning. He has been quarantined, along with his roommate as directed by NYRA's Preparedness and Response Plan.

NYRA's Preparedness and Response Plan Committee used the up-to-date health guidance established by the New York State Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in formulating that plan.

"This individual and his roommate have been in isolation since prior to racing last Friday and as such did not travel to Aqueduct for live racing," NYRA CEO and President Dave O'Rourke said in a release. "We are working with the County and State departments of health to ensure proper quarantine and sterilization practices will continue to be followed moving forward.

"We are focused on ensuring the health and safety of our entire backstretch community, as well as the horses in their care. Accordingly, we are immediately suspending racing operations until further notice to devote all our attention and resources to this effort."

Aqueduct was scheduled to offer live racing cards Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Stabling and training at the winter track in Queens ended permanently on Jan. 1, as NYRA consolidated its operations and moved all horses and workouts to Belmont Park, nine miles away in Elmont, Nassau County.

Closing day for the Aqueduct meet is scheduled for April 19, with the track's big Kentucky Derby points race, the Grade II Wood Memorial, scheduled for Saturday, April 4. The Belmont Park spring/summer meet is supposed to begin on April 24.

The Preparedness and Response Plan Committee is comprised of NYRA staff members as well as representatives from the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (NYTHA), the Backstretch Employee Service Team (BEST) and the New York Race Track Chaplaincy of America (NYRTCA).

They have been closely monitoring and assessing developments regarding the coronavirus for the past several weeks to develop protocols to monitor and manage both the Aqueduct and Belmont properties.

"At this point in the COVID-19 crisis, we all need to be 100% focused on the health of our staff and the welfare of our horses," NYTHA President Joe Appelbaum said in the release. "When the industry comes out the other side of this -- and we will -- having as many healthy horses and humans as possible will be paramount."

NYRA has contracted with multiple outside cleaning vendors following best practices established by the New York State Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

A decision regarding the resumption of live racing will be made at a later date.

The Belmont Park backstretch and its facilities remain open to horsemen and operational for training. Owners will not be permitted access to the backstretch until further notice.

Most tracks scheduled to run live racing continue to do so, while keeping the doors shut to the general public. One notable exception is Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., which announced on Monday that it was canceling its popular spring meet, scheduled to run from April 2-24.

The focus of racing this weekend will be Fair Grounds in New Orleans, which will be hosting the Grade II Louisiana Derby and a variety of other stakes races.

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