New York Horse Racing Resuming, New Jersey Expected To Soon Follow

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“When we go back, we go back together,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in March of joint plans among his state, New Jersey, and Connecticut to begin reopenings of business sectors once the danger of the COVID-19 pandemic had somewhat abated.

On Saturday, Cuomo announced that New York racetracks could begin holding races, with no fans, as soon as June 1. And on Tuesday, as Belmont Park announced its schedule for June 3 to July 12, the Belmont Stakes was announced to have a June 20 race date without spectators and at a shorter 1 1/8th mile distance, turning the traditional last leg of the Triple Crown into the “opening act” in this topsy-turvy sports year. (The Kentucky Derby has been rescheduled for Sept. 5 and the Preakness for Oct. 3.)

New Jersey racing officials are now hoping that Cuomo’s “together” mantra comes true, with Meadowlands Racetrack operator Jeff Gural and Monmouth Park operator Dennis Drazin each setting a goal of Friday, June 5, for a Meadowlands resumption of racing.

Drazin told NJ Online Gambling Monday that he hoped for a go-ahead on that date to also allow for more than 1,500 horses to begin arriving at Monmouth Park stables in early June.

That would allow sufficient preparation time for the Oceanport track to offer its first races on July 3. It’s also possible that thoroughbred turf races could be held in June afternoons at the Meadowlands as those horsemen try to make up for lost dates from what originally was to be a May 2 launch of the summer schedule.

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Meadowlands Racetrack officials have announced that a “Strategy for Fiscal Recovery to Restart the New Jersey Economy” committee has been formed with three elected state officials including state Sen. Paul Sarlo, the longtime representative for the Meadowlands district.

Committees formed for New Jersey horse racing plans

Also on the committee is Assemblyman Ron Dancer, a one-time harness racing driver and son of legendary driver Stanley Dancer, who drove 23 Triple Crown race winners.

Dancer was on a recent call with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy during which Murphy promised to follow up soon with more specifics on his administration’s review of the spectator-less racing proposal.

Murphy did not comment on the state’s horse racing plans on Monday or Tuesday, however.

Gural and Drazin also have been appointed to a Tourism Advisory Committee regarding those horse racing plans. The proposal, developed in a partnership with Dr. Karyn Malinowski, director of the Rutgers Equine Science Center, also has been formally submitted to the state racing commission and the Department of Agriculture.

New York Racing Association President Dave O’Rourke responded to Cuomo’s comments in a statement: “This is a reasoned and responsible decision by Gov. Cuomo that will enable horse racing to resume in a way that prioritizes health and safety while recognizing that NYRA is the cornerstone of an industry responsible for 19,000 jobs and $3 billion in annual economic impact.”

Purses at the New York tracks will be significantly reduced because of the loss of a major purse supplement that normally comes from a sliver of racino revenues, which have been suspended during the pandemic.

Pennsylvania getting left behind

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, in a letter sent last week to Russell Redding, the chairman of the state’s horse racing commission, wrote that “we foresee horse racing reopening when counties enter the green phase, like other entertainment (casinos, theaters, etc.).”

That’s a curious comment, because the nature of the horse racing industry is such that most of the personnel that would be required to hold races already are on site at horse barns every day anyway. Slot machines, for example, don’t need nearly as much daily maintenance.

Four tracks — Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, Parx Racing at Parx Casino, Meadows Racetrack & Casino, and The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono — have had their seasons derailed by shutdowns due to COVID-19 concerns, and the opening of the seasons at Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack and Presque Isle Downs & Casino has been delayed.

Photo by Dennis Schneidler / USA Today Sports

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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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