Trainers and exercise riders get horses used to the track.
Trainers and exercise riders get horses used to the Del Mar Racetrack prior to the 2017 Breeders Cup. Photo by Chris Stone

The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club announced Wednesday the cancellation of this weekend’s racing program after 15 jockeys recently tested positive for COVID-19.

The move was made out of an abundance of caution, according to the club, but the 81st summer meet is slated to resume July 24, with many of this weekend’s scheduled races to be shifted to the following weekend.

Racing officials say testing was ordered for all jockeys and jockey room personnel after jockeys Flavien Prat and Victor Espinoza recently tested positive.

San Diego County medical staff administered Tuesday’s tests at Del Mar’s request. All the jockeys who tested positive are believed to be asymptomatic, officials said.

“Assuming these individuals continue to show no symptoms, they will be isolated for a total of 10 days and should be able to resume their usual activities, including riding after that time,” said Dr. Eric McDonald, medical director of the county’s epidemiology and immunization department.

Joe Harper, Del Mar’s CEO, said: “Canceling this weekend’s races will give us additional time to monitor the situation and give the individuals who tested positive additional time to recover.”

However, when racing returns, new travel restrictions will be in place.

Del Mar officials say only jockeys based in California will be permitted to ride for the remainder of the meeting, following a similar policy announced this week by the New York Racing Association regarding jockeys at Saratoga Race Course.

The policy also means all local jockeys who leave the track to ride at other venues will not be allowed back at Del Mar for the remainder of the summer racing season.

A statement from Del Mar indicates all but one of the jockeys who tested positive rode at the recently concluded Los Alamitos meet.

Among those were Umberto Rispoli, who took to Twitter Wednesday to announce his positive result.

“I have tested positive for COVID-19. I’m feeling more than well, quarantined, and looking forward to come back stronger then before,” Rispoli wrote. “Thank you everyone for the well wishes. Stay everyone safe.”

Dr. Ghazala Sharieff, Scripps Health chief medical officer, said, “We can reasonably expect that there will be some additional positive tests,” but said racing officials have worked with medical personnel to establish “practical health protocols for its essential personnel” in preparation for the summer meet.

“The key is to provide strategies and protocols for testing, quarantining, containment and management, all of which Del Mar is doing in cooperation with local public health experts and officials,” Sharieff said.

The Del Mar season opened last Friday without fans in the stands due to the pandemic. Racing officials also instituted a number of health and safety measures aimed at preventing any potential spread of the virus, including daily on-site health screening for all personnel, including temperature checks, face covering and social distancing requirements, additional handwashing and sanitizer stations, and regular disinfecting of all common areas, the addling/paddock area and starting gate.

The meet is slated to conclude on Labor Day, Sept. 7.

— City News Service