SARATOGA SPRINGS — Better late than never, for racehorse owners who wanted to watch their runners compete at Saratoga Race Course this season.
On the eve of the 152nd Saratoga meet, the New York State Gaming Commission issued guidelines by which the New York Racing Association can allow owners on the grounds, starting on Friday.
The meet begins spectator-free on Thursday, but as of Friday, after an application process can be fulfilled, eight owners per horse who are participating on any given card will be allowed to attend the races.
The caveat is that only those licensed by the NYSGC as owners of the horse will be allowed to apply for admission, which means guests won't be allowed, unlike a policy that was in place for the abbreviated five-day Keeneland meet that concluded on Sunday.
Owners can also apply for entrance to the backstretch barn area to visit their horses, but must supply a negative COVID-19 test for that part of the new policy, and they must exit the backstretch by 11:20 a.m.
Jack Knowlton, operating partner of the Saratoga Springs-based Sackatoga Stable, was relieved to finally get some good news on the attendance front.
He's among 35 partners, many who are Capital Region residents, invested in Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law, who is targeting the Aug. 8 Travers. He won't be able to get all of them in to watch that race, but it's better than none.
"It's not unreasonable," Knowlton said, of the limit of eight owners who can attend per horse "I'm just very, very happy that the state has allowed the spigot to open.
"For me, personally, because I'm on the backstretch historically just about every morning, to be able to do that is a big deal. And it's a big deal for a lot of my owners, too, particularly the people that are local. So that's all good."
NYRA, in conjunction with the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, had submitted a proposal to the NYSGC requesting owner admission to the track and backstretch on July 1.
To align with required health and safety measures implemented in New York to mitigate risk and combat the spread of COVID-19, owners will be subjected to health screening prior to entry, including a temperature check. In addition, owners will be required to practice social distancing and to wear a facial covering at all times while on the Saratoga property.
"Health and safety are our primary focus as we continue to work with New York state officials to determine the potential for broader spectator access during the 2020 summer meet," NYRA president and CEO Dave O'Rourke said in a release. "To be able to allow the participation of a limited number of owners reflects the progress made in New York to reduce the rate of COVID-19 infection."
Owners planning travel to New York from any of the states currently listed on the New York Travel Advisory are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Per NYSGC guidance, owners won't be permitted within any indoor areas at Saratoga, including the clubhouse and grandstand and all hospitality areas.
Owners will be provided a socially-distanced outdoor seating area and will be permitted to view races from the apron.
"The world we live in, they're running the races, which is great, and the fact that some of us will be able to see our horses race, and particularly the Travers, I'm a lot happier now than I was a couple hours ago, when I was wondering whether it would happen at all," Knowlton said.