ELMONT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — For the first time in 80 days, sports are back in New York as Belmont Park officially reopened.
The horse racing facility hosted 10 races on Wednesday and even the wet weather couldn’t put a damper on the mood.
“It’s pretty emotional. We’ve all been through so much, so to see some semblance of normalcy is gratifying, it’s humbling and it’s exciting,” said Pat McKenna, Belmont Park’s Director of Communications, in an interview with CBS2’s Steve Overmyer.
Extensive measures have been implemented by the New York Racing Association to ensure racing can return safely without spectators. Everyone is required to wear masks, including the jockeys, who had to provide a negative COVID-19 test taken within the past five days.
“I think there was a lot of emotion on the grounds when we saw those horses come out into the paddock,” said McKenna. “Jockeys observed a moment of silence for the victims of this pandemic, to tribute the front line workers. It’s a thrill, but there’s absolutely a sense of responsibility.”
More than 600 backstretch workers live on the grounds at Belmont Park and their isolation gave the New York facility a leg up on beginning racing again.
“Our teams are already on the property, so that put us in a very strong position to advocate, to make the case that racing can bring that sense of normalcy that I think the governor has described,” said McKenna.
The thoroughbreds broke from the starting gate amid silence. One race even included Fauci, a horse named after the Brooklyn-born infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci.
“Pro sports should come back if they’re able to alter their business model to make it suitable without fans and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” said McKenna.
The experience may look different, but it’s a big step for sports.