COVID-19: Aqueduct to serve as temporary New York hospital during crisis

Horse Racing Aqueduct racecourse
The Big A: Aqueduct is set to serve as a temporary hospital during coronavirus crisis.
Photo: NYRA/Coglianese Photos

By Pat McKenna/NYRA

USA: The remainder of Aqueduct’s winter and spring meets have been abandoned with the racetrack facility to serve as a temporary hospital site during the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

On Friday, New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that New York would seek the required federal approval to construct a temporary hospital at Aqueduct to serve the borough of Queens with a 1,000-plus patient overflow facility. 

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This action aligns with New York state’s goal to provide COVID-19 patient overflow facilities in each NYC borough as well as Westchester, Rockland, Nassau and Suffolk counties.

On Saturday, Governor Cuomo announced that New York state had received the approval to move forward with the temporary hospital at Aqueduct as well as locations in Brooklyn, Staten Island and the Bronx.

“NYRA and the New York racing community are thankful for Governor Cuomo’s steady leadership during this unprecedented public health crisis, and we stand ready to assist in any way we can,” said Dave O’Rourke, NYRA CEO and president Dave O’Rourke.

“The governor’s ability to quickly marshal all available resources is saving lives and inspiring action both here in New York and across the nation. Now that Gov. Cuomo has secured the federal approval, Aqueduct Racetrack will serve as a safe haven for those recovering from this virus. 

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“We recognise that we all must work together as a community to meet this challenge and emerge stronger for it. NYRA also joins the governor in extending our deepest gratitude to the first responders, medical professionals and volunteers who continue to operate on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19.”

On Wednesday, NYRA had announced that racing at Aqueduct would be suspended through at least April 5 due to the continued impact of the coronavirus pandemic in New York.

The Big A winter meet was slated to run through March 29 with the 13-day spring meet scheduled from April 2 through April 19. The 51-day Belmont spring/summer meet featuring 58 total stakes races worth $18.65 million is scheduled to kick off on Friday April 24 through Sunday July 1.

Horse Racing Aqueduct
Aqueduct: remainder of winter and spring meets abandoned. Photo: NYRA/Coglianese Photos

Following the approval of Aqueduct Racetrack as a temporary hospital site, NYRA will focus efforts on preparing for live racing at Belmont Park.

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“NYRA is continuing to strategize the safest options for a return to racing at Belmont Park, while prioritszing the health and welfare of our staff and the racing community,” said O’Rourke. “A revised live racing schedule is an ongoing consideration, but secondary to our primary commitment to the health and wellbeing of the community.”

The $750,000 Wood Memorial, New York’s main Kentucky Derby prep race scheduled for April 4 at Aqueduct, has been postponed to a date yet to be determined.

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NYRA-operated racetracks have been used in prior emergency situations, including in 2012 when 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 aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.

In 2001, Belmont Park served as one of the staging areas for emergency vehicles and personnel in the days following 9/11. 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.

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