Belmont Park Gets Guidance, New York Track to Welcome Some Fans Back Saturday
More than a week after Belmont Park was supposed to welcome horse racing fans back, the New York track will finally get that opportunity this weekend.
The New York Racing Association (NYRA) announced Wednesday that the Long Island venue will be open to fans starting on Saturday. In an announcement, NYRA said the decision came after state officials “detailed racetrack health and safety protocols” to guide the reopening process.
Racing fans have not been able to attend races at a NYRA track for more than a year due to COVID-19.
NYRA has been working collectively toward this goal since the start of the pandemic and we are thrilled to be able to welcome fans back to Belmont Park,” said NYRA President & CEO Dave O’Rourke. “We thank our fans for their loyalty and support over this challenging year and look forward to the spring and summer ahead.”
To attend, individuals must purchase a $15 ticket in advance. Attendance will be capped at no more than 20 percent of outdoor seated capacity.
They must either be fully vaccinated or show proof of a negative COVID test to gain entry. To be considered fully vaccinated, ticketholders must have received either their last dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least 14 days prior to the event.
For the negative test, individuals must have either a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of the event or a negative antigen test collected within six hours before the event.
Fans must also complete an emailed health questionnaire within 12 hours of the 11 am ET gate opening Saturday. They must also comply with make and social distancing requirements and pass a temperature screening.
Target Date Missed
Earlier this month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that racetracks, both of the horse and auto variety, would be allowed to welcome back fans. The move seemed a natural step since the state previously granted that to other major professional sports venues, both indoor and outdoor.
On April 14, Cuomo said that the racetrack provision would take effect eight days later to coincide with the opening day of Belmont’s spring meet.
However, NYRA announced April 21, that it could not reopen to fans until it received the guidance necessary from the state.
Jonah Bruno, director of public information for the New York State Department of Health, told Casino.org on Tuesday the state gave that information to NYRA. However, the link to the information provided showed an “as of” date of April 24, two days after Cuomo had said NYRA would be able to accommodate fans.
It’s uncertain when exactly the state gave that documentation to racing officials.
Belmont Capacity Will Expand in Three Weeks
Bruno did have more good news for racing fans when he confirmed that Cuomo’s announcement expanding capacity at outdoor sporting events did extend to Belmont.
“In line with recently announced guidance for large-scale outdoor event venues, horse and auto racing tracks that hold 2,500 or more people will be permitted to increase spectator capacity to 33 percent starting on May 19,” he told Casino.org.
According to NYRA, Belmont Park’s seating capacity is 32,941.
That means, provided there are no other changes, there could be just less than 11,000 fans for the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, set for June 5. That figure is also contingent on the track being able to handle a crowd of that size and still adhere to the state’s other COVID guidelines, including social distancing requirements.
The chance to get more fans into the Belmont grandstand was a win for state Sen. Joseph Addabbo, D-Queens. Before Bruno issued his statement, Addabbo, the chairman of the Senate Racing, Gaming, and Wagering Committee said that while he was happy to see capacity thresholds expanded at casinos and other venues, he also wanted that for the open-air racetracks as well.
“It would behoove, obviously, just to get these people back into the spectator area, just for economics,” Addabbo told Casino.org. “We look at other areas and they have had low (COVID) positivity rates and that have been open for months now. Jersey tracks have been open for months, and their positivity rate is low. So, let’s follow the science, let’s follow the metrics, the numbers, and let’s do it.”
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