In a surprising development, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that fans may return to the state's racetracks starting Apr. 22. Attendance will be capped at 20% capacity.
A few hours after Cuomo's announcement, NYRA officials were still considering their options and would not commit to allowing fans to attend as soon as Apr. 22.
“The New York Racing Association, Inc. looks forward to welcoming fans back to Belmont Park this spring and to Saratoga Race Course this summer,” NYRA President and CEO Dave O'Rourke. “We thank Governor Cuomo for the opportunity to host fans at our historic tracks for the first time since the start of the pandemic. We will announce ticketing options for fans once we further review the guidelines and protocols set forth for thoroughbred tracks in New York state. NYRA has dearly missed the passion and excitement that fans bring to the sport of thoroughbred racing. Today's announcement by the Governor is one more indication that we are collectively moving toward a return to normalcy.”
Belmont is scheduled to open for its spring meet Apr. 22.
NYRA spokesman Pat McKenna said that it was premature to predict how many fans will be allowed to attend the GI Belmont S. card and the Saratoga races.
“As the rate of vaccination continues to increase across New York State, we are optimistic that capacity restrictions will continue to ease in the coming months in advance of the Belmont Stakes and the 2021 summer meet at Saratoga Race Course,” he said. “We miss our fans dearly, and look forward to seeing them soon back where they belong.”
NYRA has not been allowed to have on-track fans since March 2020, when the pandemic started to shut down the entire country.
It remains to be seen how many fans will be allowed at each facility under the 20% guideline. The release from Cuomo's office reads, “Spectators will be subject to the State's strict guidance, which is currently in effect for other professional sports competitions with fans. Attendees must show proof of a recent negative test or completed vaccination series prior to entry and are subject to the State's health and safety protocols on face coverings, social distancing, and health screening.”
Cuomo appeared at Belmont Wednesday to do a press briefing, but never mentioned the decision to allow fans back on track. He did take the opportunity to commend the New York racing community for its response to a barn fire Monday in which all but two horses were rescued.
“Due to really extraordinary effort by first responders, the fire department and the staff here at NYRA. Fifty-eight horses were saved,” he said. “Two horses perished, but they did a really outstanding job.”