By Dan Ross
Del Mar has cancelled its weekend racing–scheduled to run Friday through Sunday–because of multiple jockeys testing positive for COVID-19, as first reported in Daily Racing Form.
In a subsequent press release Wednesday afternoon, Del Mar explained that all of the track’s jockeys and jockey room personnel were tested on Tuesday by San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency staff, with 15 jockeys showing up positive for COVID-19. All were reportedly asymptomatic.
“Assuming these individuals continue to show no symptoms, they will be isolated for a total of 10 days and should be able to resume their usual activities, including riding after that time,” said Dr. Eric McDonald, Medical Director, Epidemiology & Immunizations Services, County of San Diego.
“Racing will return on July 24,” added Joe Harper, Del Mar’s CEO, in the release. “Canceling this weekend’s races will give us additional time to monitor the situation and give the individuals who tested positive additional time to recover.”
This weekend’s card was scheduled to include the GII San Diego H. and the GII Eddie Read S.
Contact tracing procedures are underway in conjunction with the San Diego Health & Human Services Agency, the press release explained, pointing as a “common factor” to Los Alamitos, where five jockeys–Flavien Prat, Victor Espinoza, Eduard Rojas Fernandez, Luis Saez and Martin Garcia–who rode there over the July 4 weekend subsequently testing positive for COVID-19.
“Even though our jockey colony did not exhibit symptoms when they arrived at Del Mar, we made the decision to test everyone as part of protocols we have developed in conjunction with local medical experts and the San Diego County Health & Human Services Agency,” said Josh Rubinstein, Del Mar Thoroughbred President and COO. “We put these measures in place to help ensure the safety of all workers at Del Mar and our surrounding community.”
Del Mar is not permitted to release the names of the affected riders because of the Health Insurance Privacy and Portability Act (HIPPA). However, it appears that one of the jockeys to have tested positive is Umberto Rispoli, who Tweeted Wednesday, “I’m feeling more than well, quarantined, and looking forward to comeback stronger than before.”
Jockey Drayden Van Dyke also Tweeted, “Tested positive yes, but feel good, thank god and will quarantine with respect for others.”
When racing resumed at Del Mar July 10, it did so with different restrictions regarding jockey COVID protocols than what had been instituted at Santa Anita to tackle spread of the virus. For example, jockeys weren’t mandated to be tested prior to riding over a weekend, as Santa Anita required.
That decision was reversed last Sunday, when Del Mar announced that before racing resumed this Friday, the track would test all jockeys and jockeys’ room personnel.
Unlike Santa Anita, Del Mar initially permitted jockeys and their agents onto the backstretch during morning training. A Del Mar spokesperson told TDN Monday that jockeys had since been barred from the backstretch.
In Wednesday’s press release, Del Mar outlined a series of enhanced jockey safety measures at the track.
For example, only jockeys based in California will be permitted to ride at Del Mar for the remainder of the meeting, barring out-of-state jockeys from competing at the track.
“The measure to restrict the riding colony follows a similar announcement Tuesday by the New York Racing Association concerning jockeys at Saratoga Race Course. Under Del Mar’s new policy, until further notice, local jockeys who leave the track to ride at other venues will not be allowed to ride again at Del Mar for the remainder of the summer racing meeting,” the press release stated.
Del Mar also announced that it was “re-configuring and expanding the track’s jockeys’ quarters, including moving some of the functions that normally take place in the jockeys’ room to an adjacent area.”
As noted in the press release, Del Mar has been screening, monitoring and testing backstretch workers and other personnel–part of a set of health and safety protocols formulated with direct input from medical experts in the community.
“We have worked with Del Mar to apply practical health protocols for its essential personnel and we applaud the track’s continued vigilance to help provide a safe environment for its work force,” said Dr. Ghazala Sharieff, MD, Corporate Vice President and Chief Medical Officer at San Diego’s Scripps Health. “We can reasonably expect that there will be some additional positive tests. The key is to provide strategies and protocols for testing, quarantining, containment and management, all of which Del Mar is doing in cooperation with local public health experts and officials.”
The Del Mar racing office also sent out additional information Wednesday afternoon to the horsemen, explaining that an extra sheet would be compiled for Friday, and there exists the possibility of additional days of racing being added. No jockeys will be permitted to ride workers until further notice.