In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the New York Racing Association instituted precautionary procedures in order to improve the chances that the Saratoga 2020 race meet can proceed to its Labor-Day conclusion, including banning on-track spectators other than essential personnel. Privacy fences have been installed to keep people from congregating outside the track to watch races.

NYRA also mandated that jockeys riding at Saratoga won’t be able to return should they leave to ride in races at other racetracks.  Out-of-town jockeys are permitted to ride at Saratoga, provided they have not ridden in a race at another track after July 15, 2020.

The jockey colony at Saratoga 2020 consists of 22 active riders plus three apprentice riders.  It would not take many jockeys testing positive for Covid-19 to create a situation in which there are not enough riders to accommodate all of the entries in 50 races per week.  Del Mar suspended racing last weekend after the coronavirus spread through its jockey colony, with 15 jockeys and seven employees testing positive.

A shortage of jockeys at Saratoga is likely to emerge when many riders leave for mounts in the stakes races on the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby cards on September 4 and 5. Under Saratoga rules, they won’t be allowed to return to ride in races over the Labor Day race cards.

According to a story in the Daily Racing Form, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas will not have a string of horses at Saratoga for the first time in over four decades because his employees did not want to risk traveling to and staying in Upstate New York.  Other trainers are at Saratoga in a scaled-down mode.  Rusty Arnold reserved four stalls rather than his usual 17.  Similarly, Brad Cox obtained ten instead of 40 and Linda Rice reserved 12 rather than 50. 

In 2019, the Saratoga meet had paid admissions of more than one-million people and for the first-time ever betting revenue exceeded $700 million, despite losing one race day owing to a heat wave.  Opening day 2020 (Thursday, July 16) saw betting handle rocket by 21% over last year. For the opening weekend (Thursday thru Sunday), handle was up 9.4% over 2019.

Fox Sports is providing the next-best thing to being at Saratoga in person via its daily full-card telecasts on its cable channels.

© 2020 Horse Racing Business