Hoping to allow crowds as large as 15,000 to its live racing days, Monmouth Park management has been given new guidelines by Governor Phil Murphy’s office that will cap live attendance at a much smaller number. Dennis Drazin, chairman and CEO of Darby Development LLC., which operates the track, was still crunching the numbers yesterday prior to opening day at the abbreviated meet and going over what he could and could not do, but estimated that the amount of people that would be allowed in the track would be between 2,100 and 3,000.
He did not have an exact number because it will take time to go through what are complicated regulations and how many people can gather in certain areas, like the picnic area and outdoor dining areas. Indoor dining is still not allowed in the state. The state’s limit on public gatherings is 500, so that is the number that will be allowed in the grandstand and, perhaps, certain outdoor areas.
When giving permission for the state’s casinos and racetracks to reopen, Murphy said they must cap attendance at 25% of maximum capacity. With Monmouth having had a crowd of 60,000 for American Pharoah’s appearance in the 2015 GI Haskell Invitational, Drazin was hoping that Monmouth would be given permission to have as many as 15,000 people in attendance.
“Until two nights ago, I thought the number would be much higher,”Drazin said.
Watching the spikes in the number of people coming down with the coronavirus in other states, Murphy has been more hesitant of late about allowing businesses to fully reopen. He had been ready to allow indoor dining, but has pulled back on that. With Monmouth having a large indoor dining room, the decision has impacted how many people can go inside the grandstand.
Drazin wasn’t sure how many people would try to come to the track this weekend.
“It’s difficult to know what to expect,” he said about five hours before the first race. Friday “If there were no media coverage of this and people weren’t told there were going to be limits, I think we might have gotten 10,000 today. Now, with people knowing about the limitations I think we will be within the number that is permitted. Tomorrow is another story. It’s the 4th of July and we might have a problem. It’s going to require me to make tough decisions that may not be popular.”
A bigger issue could be what Monmouth does for Haskell day. There will likely be a lot more that 3,000 people that would like to attend the races that day. Drazin said he will continue to work with the governor’s office in hopes that the track will be allowed to host more than the 2,100 to 3,000 fans.
“We will try to negotiate,” Drazin said. “There will be plenty of pictures from this weekend for them and evidence that people are social distancing. Some of the people who are making the decisions have never been here. We need to demonstrate to them we can do this in a safe way.”
Those who do make their way to Monmouth will have to adhere to several rules relating to the coronavirus, including the wearing of masks and answering a health questionnaire.
“I am getting push back from people, our customers and our horse owners,” Drazin said. “The governor wants everybody to wear masks. Some people think I’m being too restrictive by requiring masks. It’s not my call. It the state saying this is the policy and if you don’t enforce the policy we reserve the right to shut you down. I’m supposed to do the right thing.”