May 30, 2020

Aqueduct suspends racing after Belmont backstretch worker contracts coronavirus

Aqueduct Starting Gate
Aqueduct Starting Gate (Coglianese Photos)

Live racing at Aqueduct is suspended until further notice, according to a Thursday press release from the New York Racing Association, after a Belmont-based backstretch worker tested positive for COVID-19 coronavirus.

The worker began showing symptoms this past Friday morning. In accordance with NYRA’s Preparedness and Response Plan, the worker and his roommate have been in quarantine since.

The release further states that “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.”

NYRA CEO and President Dave O’Rourke issued the following statement:

“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. 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.”

While training will continue at Belmont, and its facilities remain open to horsemen, the backstretch will be closed to owners until further notice. There is no stabling at Aqueduct as of January 1, 2020.

Coronavirus protocols for both Aqueduct and Belmont have been developed by the Preparedness and Response Plan Committee, comprising 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).

The status of the Aqueduct stakes schedule, including the April 4 Wood Memorial (G2), is yet to be determined.

“At this point in the COVID-19 crisis, we all need to be 100 percent focused on the health of our staff and the welfare of our horses,” NYTHA President Joe Appelbaum said. “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.”