Wood Memorial postponed as Aqueduct continues shutdown

Wood Memorial postponed as Aqueduct continues shutdown
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

The New York Racing Association, Inc. announced Wednesday that live racing at Aqueduct Racetrack will be suspended through at least April 5 due to the continued impact of the coronavirus pandemic in New York. 

As a result, the Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial, a Kentucky Derby prep previously slated for April 4 at Aqueduct, has been postponed to a date yet to be determined. A decision regarding the Aqueduct spring meet stakes schedule, including the Carter Handicap (G1), Gazelle (G2), Bay Shore (G2) and Excelsior (G3), all slated for that same card, will be made at a later date.

"While this decision is necessary, NYRA is working hard to determine when we can return to racing while prioritizing the health and welfare of everyone involved in our operations," said NYRA CEO and President Dave O'Rourke. "I would like to thank the trainers and backstretch community who are caring for the horses stabled at Belmont Park during this period of great uncertainty."

Last Thursday, NYRA announced live racing at Aqueduct was suspended following the confirmation that a backstretch worker who lived and worked at Belmont Park tested positive for the coronavirus. 

The Preparedness and Response Plan Committee, comprised of key NYRA staff members as well as representatives from the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, the Backstretch Employee Service Team and the New York Race Track Chaplaincy of America, have closely monitored and assessed developments regarding the coronavirus for the past several weeks. 

During that time, the committee has established a number of key protocols following the most up-to-date health guidance established by the New York State Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to monitor and manage both the Aqueduct and Belmont properties.

"I'm encouraged by and thankful for the support, teamwork and communication with our industry partners during this difficult time," said O'Rourke. "The real-time input and expertise provided by Joe Appelbaum and the NYTHA team, along with the care and compassion of Paul Ruchames at BEST, our Chaplain Humberto Chavez, as well as Libby Imperio and her colleagues at Anna House have helped to safeguard our community and provide a sense of stability and hope."

The Belmont backstretch is home to 585 workers who tend to the essential daily care of the more than 1,300 thoroughbreds stabled on the property. For the safety of the community, a number of safeguards recommended by the Preparedness and Response Plan Committee were implemented:

 NYRA contracted with multiple outside cleaning vendors following best practices established by the New York State Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. 

 Posting of coronavirus related signage in English and Spanish across the backstretch noting key information regarding social distancing, hand washing techniques, and a hotline to call for workers feeling the onset of symptoms 

 Access to enter Belmont Park was restricted to Gate 6 and all workers, including licensed horsemen, that do not live on the backstretch are subject to a standard health assessment including temperature check 

 The Belmont Park grounds are closed to ship-in horses with the exception of horses in extenuating circumstances subject to the approval of Martin Panza, NYRA's senior vice president of racing operations. 

 To eliminate congestion and encourage social distancing, a number of common areas have been closed or had their service modified. The Morning Line café and track kitchen are providing grab-and-go food options to align with guidance from the New York State Department of Health. The clockers stand has been closed to all but essential safety personnel.

In addition, NYRA has confirmed with its vendor, Triple Star Horse Feed, that feed supply for horses stabled at Belmont is guaranteed during this time of uncertainty.

The Belmont Park backstretch and its facilities remain open to horsemen and operational for training. Owners will not be permitted access to the backstretch until further notice.

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