NYRA's focus turns to Belmont; Aqueduct to serve as hospital

NYRA's focus turns to Belmont; Aqueduct to serve as hospital
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

The New York Racing Association announced Saturday that live racing at Aqueduct Racetrack is canceled for the remainder of the winter and spring meets with the building now set to serve as a temporary hospital site during the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

On Friday, New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that New York would seek the required federal approval to construct a temporary hospital at Aqueduct Racetrack to serve the borough of Queens with a 1,000-plus patient overflow facility. This action aligns with New York state's goal to provide COVID-19 patient overflow facilities in each NYC borough as well as Westchester, Rockland, Nassau and Suffolk counties.

On Saturday, Governor Cuomo announced that New York state had received the approval to move forward with the temporary hospital at Aqueduct Racetrack as well as locations in Brooklyn, Staten Island and the Bronx.
 

"NYRA and the New York racing community are thankful for Governor Cuomo's steady leadership during this unprecedented public health crisis, and we stand ready to assist in any way we can," said NYRA CEO and President Dave O'Rourke. "The governor's ability to quickly marshal all available resources is saving lives and inspiring action both here in New York and across the nation. Now that Gov. Cuomo has secured the federal approval, Aqueduct Racetrack will serve as a safe haven for those recovering from this virus.

"We recognize that we all must work together as a community to meet this challenge and emerge stronger for it. NYRA also joins the governor in extending our deepest gratitude to the first responders, medical professionals and volunteers who continue to operate on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19."

On Wednesday, NYRA had announced that racing at Aqueduct would be suspended through at least April 5 due to the continued impact of the coronavirus pandemic in New York.

The Big A winter meet was slated to run through March 29 with the 13-day spring meet scheduled from April 2 through April 19. The 51-day Belmont spring/summer meet featuring 58 total stakes races worth $18.65 million is scheduled to kick off on April 24.

"NYRA is continuing to strategize the safest options for a return to racing at Belmont Park, while prioritizing the health and welfare of our staff and the racing community," said O'Rourke. "A revised live racing schedule is an ongoing consideration, but secondary to our primary commitment to the health and well-being of the community."

The Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial, previously slated for April 4 at Aqueduct, has been postponed to a date yet to be determined.

The 152nd running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes, is currently slated for June 6, as the highlight of the three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival. 
Previously, Churchill Downs rescheduled the traditional first leg of the Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby, to Sept. 5, while government officials in Maryland are pondering a fall date as well.

NYRA-operated racetracks have been used in prior emergency situations, including in 2012 when NYRA donated the use of the Aqueduct parking lot to the American Red Cross to operate a mobile feeding kitchen and relief supplies staging area in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.

In 2001, Belmont Park served as one of the staging areas for emergency vehicles and personnel in the days following 9/11. Less than seven weeks later, on October 27, 2001, Belmont Park was the site of the first major international sporting event post-9/11 in New York when it hosted the Breeders' Cup.

Aqueduct Racetrack opened on September 27, 1894, on property that belonged to the old Brooklyn Water Works, which was home to a conduit that brought water to New York City from the vast Hempstead Plain. Also known as the Big A, Aqueduct is the only racetrack in New York City, occupying 210 acres in South Ozone Park in the borough of Queens. Just eight miles from its sister track, Belmont Park, Aqueduct's neighbor is John F. Kennedy International Airport, the top international passenger gateway in the United States.

From 1955-59, Aqueduct was rebuilt with a new grandstand, main track, barns, and accessory buildings. The new Aqueduct opened on September 14, 1959 to a crowd of 42,473 and rave reviews as the most up-to-date racing facility in North America. From 1963-68, during the reconstruction of Belmont Park, Aqueduct was the site of the Belmont Stakes.

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