By Nicholas Godfrey
USA: Jockeys in New York ‘took a knee’ in the parade ring at Belmont Park before racing on Wednesday in solidarity with peaceful protesters against discrimination across the US and beyond.
After an 80-day hiatus, horse racing is the first professional sport to resume in New York after the coronavirus shutdown and the jockey colony also stood in the paddock for a moment of silence in honour of those who have died from COVID-19 and to pay tribute to those working on the front line.
Protesters around the world on Wednesday dropped to their knees in support of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ demonstration following the death of African-American father of two George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
“There’s a lot going on in the world right now and we wanted to show respect to all causes, and to all people, and to show that we here at NYRA [New York Racing Association] support everybody,” explained jockey Reylu Gutierrez, who won the first race on the behind-closed-doors card on Star Of The West for trainer Rudy Rodriguez.
“Horse racing, in general, supports all ethnicities,” added the rider, speaking to NYRA reporters.
“Horse racing is a worldwide sport and it doesn’t matter what colour you are, what religion you are, or what ethnicity you are. What matters in horse racing is that we are one. Here at NYRA, we have people from everywhere and fans from everywhere. We will continue to be united here and support everybody.”
The 6½f maiden claimer that opened Belmont’s behind-closed-doors card was the first race held on the NYRA circuit since Aqueduct’s meeting was halted following the card on Sunday March 15.
Winning jockey Gutierrez, an Eclipse Award finalist in the apprentice division in 2018, is a New York native. “It means the world to me,” he said after his opening victory.
“I stayed here throughout the pandemic. I stayed working. I was galloping, jogging and breezing horses. I’m just battling to earn my place here and winning the first race back means the world. I shed a little tear after the wire because it really does mean a lot to me.”
Highlight of the opening day of the spring/summer meet at Belmont was the G3 Beaugay, won in wire-to-wire fashion by leading turf racemare Rushing Fall (Chad Brown/Javier Castellano). The four-time G1 winner has now won nine of her 12 career starts, among them the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies’ Turf.
Wesley Ward suffered a reverse earlier on the card when two-year-old Fauci, spoken of in glowing terms by the trainer, was easily brushed aside by the impressive Prisoner (Todd Pletcher/Irad Ortiz).
• Find out more about racing at Belmont Park at the NYRA website