NY Racing Association president and CEO Dave O’Rourke sat in his office at Belmont Park last Saturday and contemplated just what a Saratoga summer would be as with no fans in the stands.

After holding out hope  a good section of the spring and early summer that at some stage a restricted number of fans would be permitted to attend the historic Saratoga Racecourse – which begins its 40-day meet Thursday – O’Rourke said during the last few weeks that “is becoming less of possible” due to the concern with an increase in COVID-19 cases happening in New York like it has happened in lots of other stakes.

“It’s sad,” O’Rourke said. “Even here, Belmont Stakes Day is a cool day of racing, the main one day we reach showcase Belmont. When you can sit down in a box seat and literally hear the hooves as the horses cross the wire, that’s a weird feeling.”

Sad. Weird. Frustrating.

All of the above.

Neither fans nor owners were allowed due to Belmont Park, which ended its 25-day meet Sunday. By Monday, NYRA was still awaiting word from the New York State Gaming Commission on its ability to let a restricted number of owners into Saratoga, both in the morning and afternoon. A COVID test will be required for anybody who involves the barn area at Saratoga, including owners. Jockeys must also produce a negative COVID ensure that you, in the wake of several jockeys testing positive for the coronavirus in other states, new protocols are anticipated to maintain put place this week for Saratoga.

If owners are allowed in, it could only maintain designated outside areas. The box seats and the 1863 Club, which only opened last year, will be not be accessible, O’Rourke said.

The inability to permit fans has many NY horsemen questioning why they are going to Saratoga instead of continuing to race at Belmont Park. In the end, the Belmont Park meet appeared to be run safely and successfully, generating $386.6 million in handle, a daily average of $15.46 million. The daily average was up 41.6 percent from $10.9 million in 2019 when 48 days of racing were conducted.

“I’ve been opposed to shipping there,” Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey said, echoing sentiments expressed by others. “We got through the spring here perfect, no problems. All of this testing, which is okay, and it’s very expensive for all of us to race up there. I’m very disappointed in NYRA saying we need to go up there. If we must stay here and cut purses then cut purses.”

Purse money is a prime reason NYRA management wants to head to Saratoga. With the Resorts World casino at Aqueduct closed since mid-March – earnings from the casino generates 38 percent of purses paid at NYRA tracks – purse money is fueled only by handle.

As strong as handle was at Belmont, NYRA is steadfast in its belief handle will be better at Saratoga, where this past year average daily handle was $18.08 million for 39 days.

“There’s no scenario where Saratoga doesn’t outhandle Belmont,” O’Rourke said.

O’Rourke also said that the turf courses at Belmont Park wouldn’t normally be able to endure through a summer and the fall meet, meaning racing would likely have to move to Aqueduct sooner. O’Rourke said Aqueduct handles less than Belmont.

O’Rourke noted that NYRA has had to dip right into a purse cushion to help fund purses at Belmont and Saratoga.

“To maintain the purse levels you do need to produce the product, and something produced with the Saratoga brand is powerful,” O’Rourke said.

Purses are cut compared to this past year. Open maiden and allowance races are reduced by 20 percent. New York-bred races are down 15 percent while claiming races are down 5 percent.

Martin Panza, NYRA’s senior vice president of racing operations, notes Saratoga’s purses “are still bigger than most places in the united states.”

Saratoga’s robust stakes schedule will offer 71 stakes worth $14.45 million, compared to 76 stakes worth $20.85 million in 2019.

The Saratoga stakes schedule has already established to undergo major renovations, especially the moving of the meet’s signature event, the Travers Stakes, from the last weekend in August to Aug. 8. It now serves as a prep for the Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5.

O’Rourke believes that Saratoga’s the other day of racing figures to be negatively impacted by increasing against Churchill Downs, which has basically moved its entire Kentucky Derby week schedule from the first week in May to the first week in September.

Shortly after Saratoga opens, three major sports leagues – Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League – are expected to begin or resume their seasons.

O’Rourke said that during the pandemic, when those sports were shuttered, horse racing was “in a position to capture a broader audience.”

“It’s going to be very interesting to observe how a lot of it sticks,” he said. “There’ll be some dilution. There has to be, because there’s more sports betting product available.”

The Saratoga product will be accessible for fans to view on Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 along with other regional networks. The Travers will be broadcast on national Fox.

Chad Brown, the leading trainer at Saratoga going back four years, believes it’s vital that you try and have a Saratoga meet, even without patrons.

“Outside of financial reasons, the historical need for horse racing should be kept in mind when making some of these decisions, and specifically to New York it’s a huge area of the industry,” Brown said. “I think you run a risk of maybe losing some fans even if they’re not allowed in. You can’t assume that invest the a year off so when you come back everybody’s back thinking about what you’re doing.”

A lot of racing’s top horses in training are expected to run at the meet, including Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law in the Travers; Tom’s d’Etat, arguably the most notable older male in the united states, in the Grade 1 Whitney on Aug. 1; Midnight Bisou, the top older female horse, in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign the same day; and Vekoma, the Carter and Metropolitan Handicap winner, in the Grade 1 Forego on Aug. 29. The champion turf mare Sistercharlie is expected to make a bid for a third straight Grade 1 Diana on Aug. 24, and can prep in the Garde 2 Ballston Spa on July 25.

In addition to a clear grandstand, events just like the Hall of Fame induction ceremony and the two two-day yearling auctions held at the Fasig-Tipton pavilion are canceled for 2020.

As was the case this past year, racing will mostly be conducted on Wednesday through Sunday schedule save opening week and closing week, when the meet ends on Labor Day. First post on non-steeplechase days will be 1:10 p.m.

“Saratoga can be an amazing place, it’s going to have amazing racing, we’re likely to present it as best we can on Fox, but it’s {not some