Edited Release — The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) opened the first floor of Aqueduct Racetrack on Monday to serve as a New York state run COVID-19 vaccination distribution center.
In doing so, Aqueduct has joined NYRA’s other downstate track, Belmont Park, which is home to a vaccination distribution center operated by Northwell Health that opened earlier this month.
Over seven million New Yorkers – including doctors, nurses and health care workers, people age 65 and over, first responders, teachers, public transit workers, grocery store workers and public safety workers – are currently eligible for the vaccine. To determine eligibility and schedule appointments at New York State-run vaccination sites, visit https://am-i-eligible.covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/.
Opened September 27, 1894, Aqueduct has lived several lives beyond racing, often opening its doors to serve the local community during its venerable and varied 126-year-history.
New York State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr., a lifelong resident of Ozone Park who has represented the 15th Senate District since 2008, expressed his appreciation to New York state and to NYRA for selecting Aqueduct as a new distribution site, which is operating seven days a week.
“Aqueduct Racetrack is a landmark and an institution that is universally known to the constituents that I represent,” said Addabbo. “New York state selected a perfect location for this COVID-19 vaccination site and I applaud them for moving so quickly to transform a racetrack into a vaccination center. This is not the first time the men and women of the New York Racing Association have stepped up to support the community and I also thank them for their efforts to protect and support New Yorkers throughout the pandemic.”
Last spring, New York state officials identified Aqueduct as an appropriate location for an overflow hospital to serve the residents of Queens in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, the overflow hospital was not needed then or now.
“NYRA is pleased to be able to contribute to the mass vaccination effort underway across the state,” said NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke. “New York state has led the way through this unprecedented public health crisis and we will continue to do our part to support this effort.”
Beginning in April 2020, the Big A parking lot has been the home of a drive-thru COVID-19 testing location, and it continues in that role. Information regarding COVID-19 testing can be found at https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/covid-19-testing.
NYRA racetracks have had many previous uses in the community. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012, 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 days following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Belmont Park served as one of the staging areas for emergency vehicles and personnel. 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 World Championships.
In 1944 during World War II, Aqueduct concluded a trio of War Relief Days in which all the net profits were donated to the National War Fund, American Red Cross and other causes, including three Long Island hospitals. The first two War Relief days were held at the old Jamaica Race Course and Belmont Park.
The day’s featured race, the Carter Handicap, resulted in the only triple dead heat in a stakes race, with Brownie, Bossuet, and Wait A Bit hitting the finish line at the same time before more than 25,000 spectators on a rain-soaked Big A track. The event was heralded as a welcome break at a perilous, worrisome time in American history – all of four days after the D-Day landing in Normandy.
One of the track’s finest moments came without a horse in sight. On October 6, 1995, Pope John Paul II said mass before 75,000, speaking from the 300-foot-wide papal platform in Aqueduct’s infield, surrounded by 10 cardinals, three archbishops and 23 bishops. Though rain and wind had marred the first two days of the papal visit to New York, brilliant sunshine broke through just as the Pope began to speak. The crowd was Aqueduct’s biggest ever.
The winter meet at Aqueduct Racetrack continues, without spectators, through Sunday, March 21. For additional information, and to access the current television broadcast schedule, visit NYRA.com.