***Updated on May 5 at 11:20 a.m.***
The New York Racing Association plans to resume live racing at Belmont Park this year, but without fans, it announced on April 29.
The decision comes after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he had spoken to several sports team owners, and said that it might make economic sense for some teams to play before empty stadiums. Some franchises, he suggested, earn enough in television revenues that they could forego ticket sales for the years. “We want to bring sports back, so there’s an activity that people can watch on TV,” Cuomo said at his daily news briefing on April 26. “What sports can do without an audience? What sports can make work that you don’t have to sell a seat in the stadium or in the arena?” he asked rhetorically.
But in response, NYRA officials said that, since they have been able to hold races at the Aqueduct Racetrack without fans since March 15, they believe they could do the same at Belmont and Saratoga.
In a statement on the Racing Association’s website, officials said they have plans in place to “prioritize the health and safety of employees, horsemen and the backstretch community.”
“NYRA is in a position to provide a small sense of normalcy for fans across the country who can watch on television and online,” the statement reads. “At the same time, this model will enable NYRA to preserve its ability to serve as the cornerstone of an industry that generates more than 19,000 jobs in New York and $3 billion in annual economic impact.”
The statement goes on to say that NYRA will prioritize people’s health and safety, “and we are committed to taking every step possible to keep our communities safe, while providing entertainment and contributing to the New York economy as we collectively begin the return to a new normal.”
NYRA Communications Director Pat McKenna declined to comment on when live racing could start, and what that would mean for the Belmont Stakes. But in an interview on ESPN Radio’s “The Team” on April 30, he said “we have everything in place” and “we can get going pretty quickly” once Cuomo allows the organization to resume its operations.
McKenna explained that NYRA has never halted its training operation at Belmont, and they have already “gone through exhaustive safety precautions” to ensure that the backstretch workers, horsemen and other employees remain safe and healthy.
“Our focus right now is resuming live racing in a safe and secure way at Belmont Park as soon as possible,” he said, “so that we can support the horsemen and the backstretch community that has been working throughout this pandemic.”
Once the park is operational, McKenna said, NYRA can start thinking about opening the Saratoga racetrack. Its summer meet is scheduled to begin on July 16, and McKenna said, “we will do everything in our power to meet that date.”
The organization has not yet made a determination about the Belmont Stakes yet, he noted, and said that the Triple Stakes would have to be “adjusted” this year.