As New York gears up for the April 1 home opener for the New York Yankees and the return of fans for Major League Baseball games, a New York Racing Association spokesperson said in a March 24 statement that the organization is continuing to work with the New York State Department of Health and the New York State Gaming Commission to obtain permission to allow fans at Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced March 18 that professional sports in large outdoor stadiums that hold 10,000 people or more, such as Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, will be allowed to reopen at 20% capacity. Attendees must show proof of a recent negative COVID test or completed vaccination series prior to entry and are subject to strict state guidance on face coverings, social distancing, and health screening.
In a March 22 release from the New York State Department of Health it was then clarified that those guidelines do not apply to horse racing, which is covered by separate guidelines that have yet to be released by state authorities.
“Gov. Cuomo’s decision to expand capacity limits for sports fans beginning this April is incredibly positive news as we look toward the spring and summer,” said Pat McKenna, NYRA’s director of communications and public affairs. “NYRA will work closely with the New York State Department of Health and the New York State Gaming Commission to secure the requisite approvals to welcome fans back to Belmont Park this spring and to Saratoga Race Course this summer. As COVID-19 cases continue to decline and vaccines become more widely available, we are optimistic that capacity limits will increase in the coming months.”
Cuomo said as the number of COVID-19 cases decline, capacity numbers will rise.
“As the COVID rates continue to improve the capacity will continue to increase,” he said March 18. “This is our starting point, but as those numbers keep coming down, which we believe they will, you’ll see the capacity numbers go up.”
Though a limited number of licensed owners are permitted to attend races at NYRA tracks, fans have not been allowed inside the facilities for racing since early in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic erupted.
“NYRA has conducted live racing for the past eight months without the energy and excitement that the fans bring, and we have missed them dearly during this time. We look forward to turning the page, and opening the doors to these historic venues in the very near future,” McKenna said.
The spring/summer meet at Belmont Park begins April 22, with the Belmont Stakes (G1) scheduled for June 5.
Aqueduct Racetrack, which will conduct racing through April 18, is currently being used as a New York State vaccination center.
“Considering the size and scope of the COVID-19 vaccination site on the first floor of Aqueduct Racetrack, where New York State will soon be distributing more than 4,000 doses per day, NYRA hopes to reopen Aqueduct to spectators in the fall of 2021,” McKenna said.