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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Ed. Note: At this posting there are nine days until a request made by the New York Racing Association and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association to the New York State Gaming Permission requesting that spectatorless racing begin at Belmont Park May 22, Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.

The following is a letter from NYTHA chairman Joe Applebaum to his members bringing them up to speed on the process, progress made or lack thereof.

It is a thoughtful encapsulation of what needs to be done to reopen all horse racing within the state, explaining that the industry is more correctly defined as a Phase 1 agricultural issue–the care of animals by Thoroughbred and Harness industry stakeholders–than as a Phase 4 resumption of recreational activity.

The letter has been edited in the interests of brevity and clarity.

May 13, 2020

Dear Horsemen,

I’ve been trying to pump these notes out on Sunday evenings, but these days even weekends are extremely busy, so please forgive the tardiness.

Will and I are on the phone all day long with NYRA senior management, as well as elected and administration officials. I’d like to take a few moments to demystify the re-opening process and explain what is going on.

What do we know?

Regional health conditions are critical. Nassau County has been hard hit by Covid 19, but is improving significantly. The Governor’s office has set up a seven-condition test for each region. Currently, Long Island passes five of the seven criteria. You can follow the progress HERE.

Decisions are going to be made by industry, not individual businesses. New York State has four Thoroughbred and eight Standardbred racetracks. We can expect the Gaming Commission, supported by the Health Department, to establish comprehensive criteria for re-opening. Hopefully, this will be released very soon.

Each racetrack will need to prove it can meet these criteria. In addition to NYRA, there are currently three Standardbred tracks actively attempting to open. This is a good thing, as we all can engage the process from different regions.

The industry must successfully argue that racing, without fans, is not a Phase IV recreational activity, but the financial engine that supports an essential activity, animal care. This would be more akin to a Phase I agricultural designation.

NYRA has an excellent operational plan. It takes from our experience the last two months securing the backstretch and adds in needed elements such as diagnostic testing, enhanced screening and limited employee interactions.

The entire industry is highly supportive of NYRA’s plan, including NYTHA, New York Thoroughbred Breeders, and local elected officials.

What don’t we know?

Quite simply – when permission to re-open without fans will be granted.

Some horsemen have asked for a specific date for return. We’d all like that, but sometimes we need to be careful what we wish for.

While I understand the desire to plan and a date to shoot for, if we demand a date before a decision is ready to be made, a public official will likely err on the side of caution, pushing a re-open back weeks past when it could be. As NYRA is ready to launch racing, once a date is secured, we need to focus on the process!

So what can we do?

Helpful – Drive down the infection rate on the backstretch by staying home from work if ill, wearing masks, washing your hands, maintaining physical distance and getting tested.

As of today, we have 18 workers in quarantine, a number of whom should be released very soon. Encouragingly, we have 47 workers who have been released from quarantine and no workers currently hospitalized.

Unhelpful – Asking your cousin’s friend who met the Governor ten years ago to call him. That won’t help. This decision will be made in a systematic way, not a personal one.

Helpful – Work with NYRA to continue to hone their plan on testing and screening. Any plan to re-open will have to rely on testing. We have been working closely with NYRA in the past week to make wide-scale testing available for both our backstretch workers as well as NYRA employees and those who are coming on our campus.

Expect an announcement this week that will align our current screening and testing practices with those that will be required to re-open. This will take more work on all of our behalf, but in the end, the greater use of these diagnostic tools will make us all safer and get us back to operations sooner.

Preparing To Race – Turning on racing will be a unique situation here in New York. There will be lots of unanticipated situations. NYTHA will need to hear from you, so that we can make NYRA aware of the horsemen’s needs.

For example, with all of our input, NYRA is committed to offering an extended “Waiver Claiming” rule and Overnight Purses will try to be maintained as best as possible. So keep those suggestions coming.

Unfinished Business

I realize without an exact date, conditions can seem bleak, but we will be racing before you know it. Let’s keep the focus on the health of our workers and our horses. This will reap massive benefits once we do re-open.


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