For years, when I would come to Saratoga Springs, New York, a week or two before the summer meeting began, I would wander around the racecourse, marveling at its beauty, soaking in its silence. Saratoga is my hometown, and, for those few days, I felt like the track was all mine. Selfishly, I wondered what it would be like to have it all to myself.
Be careful what you wish for.
Like so many racecourses around the world, Saratoga is running its meeting this summer without spectators. Though New York State, the early center of Covid-19 devastation, has seen its infection rates drop after months of restricted activity, large gatherings of people, indoor or out, are still a no-go, considered one of the primary vectors of infection spread.
Last Thursday (July 16), opening day, only stable staff, employees of the New York Racing Association (NYRA), and a handful of media welcomed the 151st summer meeting in this small city, located midway between Manhattan and Montréal. The stillness I once coveted felt unnerving; it reminded me of the early days of the pandemic in New York City, where I live for most of the year, when the streets were apocalyptically empty.
And then, both suddenly and predictably, at 17 minutes to post, the sound of the bell echoed, without amplification, throughout the grounds. Ordinarily a sound of celebration, it had become instead a tone of mourning.
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