On Saturday the first major American sporting event since March took place in New York with the running of the Belmont Stakes in New York. Normally the last of the Triple Crown races, this year it was the first.
Down the stretch there was no crescendo of crowd noise cheering on the leaders because patrons were not allowed on site. The crowd had to watch on TV as heavy betting favorite Tiz The Law won going away, becoming the first New York-bred horse to win the Belmont Stakes in 138 years.
But before the racing started, and a big part of the reason the Belmont got to go before the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, the track went through a massive cleansing and put strict protocols in place to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
“Facemasks unless you’re on air are required. Social distancing, temperature checks when you come in, and everybody gets a wristband for those that are on-site and have been checked,” says Britney Eurton, NBC’s trackside reporter. “For jockeys coming in from out of town, they’re required to have a negative COVID-19 test and have been put in a separate jockey’s room. Additionally, for horsemen, only three people are allowed to come in with one horse. Obviously, no owners are allowed on-site and no spectators.”
Belmont has the advantage of being an active horse training facility, giving them several months to prepare and test to see what works.
“They’ve had all of these protocols in place that have helped them to decide what protocols needed to be in place for live racing,” says Eurton.
Next month the summer racing season begins at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, and they’re being as proactive as Belmont Park was. Soon 2,000 horses will be housed at Del Mar with 1,000 people there to care for them. But those will be the only folks allowed near the back stretch area where the horses are kept, with zero exceptions.
“We are going one step further and saying only people who are on the list who work back there (are allowed),” says Joe Harper, C.E.O. of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. “If you’re an exercise rider but you’re not going to be down here working you’re not going to be allowed in. All those people coming in will have their temperature checked on a daily basis and wrist bands will be displaying who we know has had their temperatures taken. We have access to testing and that type of thing.”
Doctors from Scripps Hospital will be on-site, as they usually are to treat potential injuries, but this time they will be helping with medical evaluations and possible coronavirus testing.
“I think we’ve got everything covered but it’s new to us,” says Harper. “We’ve been talking to the Governor’s office, the County Board of Supervisors, as well as the County Health Department. So, I think we’ve checked all the boxes.”
And there's a good chance that Tiz The Law will be running at Del Mar to get ready for the Kentucky Derby in September.