By Richard Rosenblatt
With prominent jockeys such as Florent Geroux, Flavien Prat and Luis Saez testing positive for COVID-19 over the past week, the New York Racing Association announced new safety protocols and travel restrictions on Tuesday for the Saratoga summer meet.
“Until further notice, Saratoga Race Course will be closed to out-of-town jockeys,” the New York Racing Association said in a news release. “In addition, any member of the regular NYRA jockey colony who travels to ride at any other racetrack will not be permitted to return” to the track.
The 40-day Saratoga meet is set to open Thursday (July 16) under strict health and safety measures, including no spectators.
“These measures prioritize the health and safety of the jockeys competing in New York, and are designed to combat the spread of COVID-19,” NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke said. “Unfortunately, the restrictive travel policies implemented today have become necessary as cases continue to rise in states across the country.”
The new restrictions come with the rise in cases of coronavirus in the United States and other parts of the world. Geroux, who most recently road at Belmont Park and Keeneland, is the latest rider to confirm he has tested positive.
“I’m currently feeling well, quarantined, and looking forward to rejoining the racetrack when I’m cleared,” Geroux wrote in a social media post. “Thank you everyone for the well wishes.”
Other riders who tested positive for COVID-19 recently include Martin Garcia, Hall of Famer Victor Espinoza, and Eduard Rojas Fernandez.
Most of them had ridden at Indiana Grand in Shelbyville, Ind., last week, or at Los Alamitos on July 3-4, and then returned to riding at the larger tracks in California, Kentucky and New York.
Here’s the plan laid out by NYRA:
_ Out-of-town jockeys that are not currently riding at another track may be considered for inclusion in the regular NYRA jockey colony provided the jockey does not ride at another track beginning July 16.
_ Any jockey that rides at a rack outside Saratoga beginning July 16 will be considered an out-of-town jockey and will not be permitted at Saratoga.
“Under these circumstances, this is a common-sense approach to add a layer of protection for jockeys and ensure a safe and successful meet here in Saratoga,” Jockey’s Guild President Terry Meyocks said. “Our membership stands in full support of these new travel protocols and we will continue to work closely with NYRA as this situation continues to evolve and change.”
Also, NYRA said all personnel working at Saratoga are required to produce a negative COVID-19 test in order to access the property. Included in this group are jockeys, valets, NYRA employees, trainers and their staff, outside vendors and credentialed media.
NYRA added that will follow current CDC and New York State Health Department guidance when determining the return of a jockey who has tested positive for COVID-19. The process includes a quarantine period determined by the severity of the case followed by a series of tests to rule out ongoing infection.
The meet runs through Labor Day, Sept. 7.
Saratoga’s summer condition book currently lists 22 active jockeys and three apprentice riders that will be considered the regular NYRA jockey colony.
They are: Junior Alvarado, Eric Cancel, Kendrick Carmouche, Javier Castellano, David Cohen, Dylan Davis, Hector Diaz, Jr., Manny Franco, Tyler Gaffalione, Florent Geroux, Reylu Guttierrez, Benjamin Hernandez, Julien Leparoux, Jose Lezcano, Mike Luzzi, Irad Ortiz, Jr., Jose Ortiz, Joel Rosario, Luis Saez, Ricardo Santana, Jr., Jorge Vargas, Jr., and John Velazquez. The apprentices: Luis Cardenas, Herman Harkie and Romero Ramsey Maragh.
The MJC announced that starting Friday (July 17), jockeys who enter another racetrack’s jockey quarters will not be permitted to ride in Maryland unless they self-quarantine for 14 days and obtain a negative COVID-19 test.
Jockeys outside Maryland will not be allowed to work or gallop horses at Laurel or Pimlico. Jockeys located in Maryland who work or gallop horses outside the state will not be allowed to ride, gallop or work horses at Laurel or Pimlico unless they self-quarantine for 14 days and obtain a negative COVID-19 test.
Jockeys who have ridden outside Maryland this past week will have separate dressing rooms and quarters this weekend and will be monitored.
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.