There are still 10 weeks before the Saratoga Race Course is scheduled to open for the season on July 16th.
But New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has questioned whether the track will be open at all this year to fans.
“You can’t open an attraction that could bring people from across the state to that attraction and overwhelm a region,” Cuomo said during a press conference in Albany. Whether it’s the “State Fair in Syracuse, or Saratoga Race Track.”
“I don’t think — we have time first of all — but today, I don’t think you can open those unless we do it statewide because there is such a pent-up demand to get out of the house and do something.”
Much of the state’s economy has been paused since the end of March to promote social distancing and stop the spread of the coronavirus. Cuomo has started to develop a reopening plan to determine which parts of the state and which businesses can reopen when the state’s work-from-home order expires May 15th.
That plan requires regions to identify businesses that can reopen, but regions will not be allowed to open any business that would attract people from other parts of the state.
“You open the Saratoga race track, I guarantee you have the highest attendance in the history of the Saratoga race track. You’ll have people driving from the entire northeast region driving to the Saratoga race track just because they want to get out of the house,” Cuomo said Wednesday. “Well, that’s great for the Saratoga race track, but density is not our friend.”
The pandemic has suspended all major American sports leagues, NCAA winter and spring sports championships have been canceled and the Summer Olympics has been postponed until 2021. The Olympics were scheduled to open in Tokyo on July 24th.
The Kentucky Derby — the first leg of the Triple Crown, traditionally held on the first Saturday in May — has been rescheduled for September 5th.
The New York Racing Association said it is looking at the option of hosting the Saratoga racing season without fans.
“We recognize that decisions about large scale events are rightly left to our elected leaders and public health officials,” NYRA Director of Communications Pat McKenna said in a statement. “At the same time, horse racing is in a unique position as a sport that can be safely staged without attendees.”
“By closing to spectators and reducing employees and support staff to only those who are required under the rules of racing, the running of races would support the small businesses and hourly workers who form the backbone of the sport,” the statement added.
NYRA officials are looking to resume live racing at Belmont Park without fans, and have operating plans in place which are modeled after the Saratoga contingencies.
The Saratoga Race Course drew 1.1 million people during last year’s 40-day meet. Total wagering was a record $676.71 million dollars.
Not opening the track to fans would be a serious economic blow to the region. It is the biggest event of the year for hotels, restaurants, bars and other businesses in Saratoga County, with an estimated $237 million dollar spin-off economic impact.
The Daily Racing Blog will support Governor Cuomo, and NYRA in whatever decision they make in regard to spectators at The Spa.
Now is not the time to be short sighted. Saratoga is one of the oldest, and greatest race tracks in America. It’s been around for 157 years, survived the Civil War, and the Great Depression.
So don’t get your spurs to jingling, and jangling just because you can’t be at the track this year. It. Will. Be. Back.