Aqueduct will be re-purposed as a temporary hospital, and racing will not resume there again at the winter or spring meets, according to a press release from the New York Racing Association Saturday afternoon. When racing does resume, it is expected to be at Belmont Park, which is currently scheduled to open Apr. 24.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo raised the possibility of making Aqueduct a temporary hospital at his press briefing Friday, and said he would seek the required permission from the federal government to serve the borough of Queens with a 1,000-plus patient overflow facility at the track. Cuomo has set a goal for New York State to provide COVID-19 patient overflow facilities in each New York City borough as well as Westchester, Rockland, Nassau and Suffolk counties.
On Saturday, Governor Cuomo announced that New York State had received the approval to move forward with the temporary hospital at Aqueduct Racetrack as well as locations in Brooklyn, Staten Island and the Bronx.
“NYRA and the New York racing community are thankful for Governor Cuomo's steady leadership during this unprecedented public health crisis, and we stand ready to assist in any way we can,” said NYRA CEO and President Dave O'Rourke. “The governor's ability to quickly marshal all available resources is saving lives and inspiring action both here in New York and across the nation. Now that Gov. Cuomo has secured the federal approval, Aqueduct Racetrack will serve as a safe haven for those recovering from this virus. We recognize that we all must work together as a community to meet this challenge and emerge stronger for it. NYRA also joins the governor in extending our deepest gratitude to the first responders, medical professionals and volunteers who continue to operate on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19.”
Wednesday, NYRA had announced that racing at Aqueduct would be suspended through at least April 5 due to the continued impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in New York.
The Big A winter meet was slated to run through March 29 with the 13-day spring meet scheduled from April 2 through April 19. The 51-day Belmont spring/summer meet featuring 58 total stakes races worth $18.65 million is scheduled to kick off on Friday, April 24 through Sunday, July 1.
Following the approval of Aqueduct Racetrack as a temporary hospital site, NYRA said they would focus efforts on preparing for live racing at Belmont Park.
“NYRA is continuing to strategize the safest options for a return to racing at Belmont Park, while prioritizing the health and welfare of our staff and the racing community,” said O'Rourke. “A revised live racing schedule is an ongoing consideration, but secondary to our primary commitment to the health and well-being of the community.”
The $750,000 GII Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino, previously slated for April 4 at Aqueduct, has been postponed to a date yet to be determined. The 152nd running of the $1.5 million GI Belmont S., is currently slated for Saturday, June 6.
NYRA-operated racetracks have been used in prior emergency situations, including in 2012 when NYRA donated the use of the Aqueduct parking lot to the American Red Cross to operate a mobile feeding kitchen and relief supplies staging area in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
In 2001, Belmont Park served as one of the staging areas for emergency vehicles and personnel in the days following 9/11. Less than seven weeks later, on Oct. 27, 2001, Belmont Park was the site of the first major international sporting event post-9/11 in New York when it hosted the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.
Aqueduct Racetrack opened Sept. 27, 1894, on property that belonged to the old Brooklyn Water Works, which was home to a conduit that brought water to New York City from the vast Hempstead Plain. Also known as the Big A, Aqueduct is the only racetrack in New York City, occupying 210 acres in South Ozone Park in the borough of Queens and is just eight miles from its sister track, Belmont Park.
From 1955-59, Aqueduct was rebuilt with a new grandstand, main track, barns, and accessory buildings. The new Aqueduct opened Sept. 14, 1959 to a crowd of 42,473 and rave reviews as the most up-to-date racing facility in North America. From 1963-68, during the reconstruction of Belmont Park, Aqueduct was the site of the Belmont S.