News and STORIES

Aqueduct Suspends Racing Until Further Notice

Author: Don Mckee
Published: Friday March 20, 2020
Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the New York Racing Association announced March 19 that Aqueduct Racetrack would suspend live racing until further notice. 

The decision comes after a backstretch worker from Belmont Park tested positive on March 19 for the virus. NYRA's Preparedness and Response Plan has required the worker to be quarantined since symptoms developed on March 13. 

NYRA's Preparedness and Response Plan

Clear protocol and processes were established by NYRA's Preparedness and Response Plan after the New York State Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control released the latest health guidelines. 

NYRA CEO and president Dave O' Rourke spoke about the developments. 

"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," O'Rourke said. "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."

The Preparedness and Response Plan committee is made up of NYRA staff members and representatives from the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, the Backstretch Employee Service Team, and the New York Race Track Chaplaincy of America. 

Together, the groups have monitored the latest COVID-19 developments over the last few weeks. By doing so, they have developed protocols to monitor and manage the Aqueduct and Belmont tracks. 

"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. "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."

Trainer Rudy Rodriguez

The new protocol has the support of trainer Rudy Rodriguez, who has 167 starts and 32 wins at Aqueduct. He is behind any of the measures taken by NYRA.

"I'm disappointed to be sure, but we're all in the same boat, and we have to stick together. I'm 100% behind (NYRA)," Rodriguez said. "We have to hope everyone stays healthy. I know they are trying to make the right decisions at a difficult time."

Rodriguez has 60 horses stabled at Belmont Park and employs around 30 people. 

"Some people may not be able to work, but we have to make the best of it and try to get the horses out and moving the best we can," he said. "It's going to be difficult, but we have to stick together and get through it and pray everyone comes out OK."

Various cleaning vendors have been brought on by NYRA to follow the practices set by the New York State Department of Health and the CDC. 

As for the resumption of live racing and the Aqueduct stakes schedule, which includes the April 4 Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino (G2), a decision will be made at a later time. 

The Belmont Park backstretch and its facilities are still available for horsemen and can be used for training. Owners are not allowed to access the backstretch until further notice is given. 

As of Jan. 1, stabling and training at Aqueduct has been closed due to other reasons besides the ongoing pandemic.