SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – The recent COVID-related cancellation of the remainder of the Colonial Downs meet in Virginia is a stark reminder of how racing — and so much else these days — is hanging on by a delicate thread. When NYRA gave the National Steeplechase Association the go-ahead to race at the Spa this summer, strict jockey protocols were in implemented to do everything practical to prevent the introduction and/or spread of the virus to the track community. In this year like no other, I spent Thursday morning following the jump jockeys to observe their unique race-day routine; the photos below tell the story. Consider the drill:
The jockeys meet at the historic Clark Stakes Stakes Barn across the street from the paddock at 10:30 am. Following a temperature check, the riders as a group are escorted by an NYRA safety steward across the street, through the paddock, to the Executive Offices, which are next to — but sequestered from — the Jocks Room designated for the local riding colony. At no time are the jump riders ever near the flat jocks or their quarters
The steeplechase jockeys dress in separate offices, formerly used by The Jockey Club. At 12:25 they exit in unison, led by NSA Steward Beale Payne, to weigh out with the Clerk of Scales, lay their tack on the bench outside the Jocks Room, then return to their changing rooms. At 12:35 — 15 minutes before post time — they are escorted to the paddock by NSA officials, get a quick leg up on their mounts, and leave the paddock through the chute onto the dirt track. Masks must be worn at all times until the riders are on the course when they have the option to drop the mask. As soon as they return after the race and dismount, they return directly to the sequestered quarters, change, and leave as a group with the Safety Steward, back through the paddock on to the Stakes Barn. At no time are the jump riders ever near the flat riders or the NYRA Jockeys quarters.