Meadowlands, Freehold, Yonkers Racetracks Join The Coronavirus Shutdown


Horse racing along the New York/New Jersey corridor has not proven any more immune to the impact of the coronavirus than any other sport in the U.S.

That’s why live racing at the Meadowlands Racetrack, Freehold Raceway, and Yonkers Raceway has been suspended indefinitely.

In the case of Freehold and Yonkers, there were direct health reasons. For the Meadowlands, it was more a matter of trying to avoid those very issues.

The Big M on Wednesday had announced its intent to soldier on with its popular Friday and Saturday night cards. But a day later, track officials felt it necessary to reverse course as several major professional team sports suspended operations.

“It’s become impossible to provide the needed protection for those racing and those attending the races,”said Meadowlands General Manager Jason Settlemoir. “We wanted to go and get everyone raced, but you get to a point where the possible negative consequences outweigh the positive aspects. So we’ll follow all developments closely and keep everyone informed of the status of live racing in the near future.”

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Freehold’s possible coronavirus connection

For Freehold, Thursday’s announcement felt even more urgent: The track was advised that an individual who has been in contact with a person who tested positive for the coronavirus was in attendance at the track on Saturday, March 7.

“As of today, the individual who was in attendance at Freehold Raceway has not tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19), but continues to be monitored,” Freehold announced.

“In light of these circumstances, in the interest and health of our guests, horsemen/horsewomen, and employees, we have made the decision to close all operations at Freehold Raceway until all areas of our racing and grandstand buildings have been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. Live racing scheduled for [Friday and Saturday] and March 20-21 will be canceled and no simulcasting will be conducted.

“All employees, and any other individuals who were in the Freehold racing areas on March 7 are being requested to self-quarantine. Freehold Raceway has been in communication with local health officials regarding this situation and will continue to communicate updates as needed.”

Track officials also committed to more frequent cleaning of restrooms, increased sanitation of door handles and wagering devices, sanitation of menus, and additional carpet cleaning.

Yonkers mourns a loss

Yonkers Raceway, meanwhile, has been closed since Tuesday due to the death of a longtime trainer at the track.

“We just learned that an employee of the Standardbred Owners Association, working in the racing office of Yonkers Raceway, located next to the racetrack and paddock, tested positive for the coronavirus before passing away,” track operator MGM Resorts International said in a statement. “We believe the last time he was on the property to be approximately eight days ago. We offer our condolences to his family during this difficult time.

“We have asked employees who worked in the immediate area to self-quarantine.”

The issues at Yonkers and Freehold had produced concern about the Meadowlands, as was evident from its Wednesday statement as the track hoped to continue: “Be advised that those caretakers of who were in the paddock at Freehold over the past weekend or have recently been in the paddock at Yonkers will not be permitted on the property of the Meadowlands Racetrack for two weeks,” the statement said.

Aqueduct is less impacted

The race goes on at Aqueduct — but with limitations.

On Thursday night, the New York Racing Association announced that the Queens, N.Y. track’s cards will occur “behind closed doors until further notice.”

“We believe that the most prudent decision to protect the health and well-being of all involved in our sport is to conduct upcoming race dates without attendees,” said New York Racing Association CEO & President Dave O’Rourke in a statement. “NYRA will continue to actively monitor this evolving situation and make further adjustments as necessary in consultation and collaboration with the New York State Gaming Commission.”

Only essential personnel such as owners, trainers, stewards, and grooms will be permitted on site.

Unlike the other sites, the Aqueduct meet is on borrowed time. The Friday through Sunday cards only last through April 19, at which point the racing schedule shifts to Belmont Park.

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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