COVID-19 outbreak forces Del Mar to cancel weekend races

Opening day at the Del Mar Racetrack with jockeys wearing face masks.
Jockeys wearing face masks head back to their locker room after attending a meeting before the start of the races on opening day at the Del Mar Racetrack.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

More than a dozen jockeys affected; racing expected to resume July 24


The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club on Wednesday, July 15, canceled its racing program this weekend after 15 jockeys and seven other workers tested positive for COVID-19.

Fourteen of the 15 jockeys were from a group of Del Mar jockeys who raced over the July 4 weekend at Los Alamitos – raising to 19 the total number of positive COVID-19 tests among jockeys who competed at the Orange County track.

Plus, all seven of the non-riding personnel, who work in the jockeys’ room at the track, were at Los Alamitos the week before Del Mar opened.

“The good news is that all our jockeys and personnel who tested positive are showing no symptoms,” said Del Mar COO Josh Rubinstein. “If they are asymptomatic, they will be eligible to ride after 10 days.”

The 10 days would expire July 23 for those who tested positive Tuesday, said Rubinstein. Victor Espinoza and Flavien Prat, two of the five riders on those Los Alamitos cards who had already tested positive, would come out of quarantine before that.

Del Mar is planning to resume racing July 24. The three days lost this weekend will be made up on Thursdays later in the nine-week meeting. This weekend’s featured races, the San Diego Handicap and Eddie Read Stakes, will be run July 25.

Espinoza tested positive for COVID-19 on July 9, the eve of Del Mar’s opening day. He voluntarily sought a test after learning two riders he had contact with at Los Alamitos — Martin Garcia and Luis Saez — tested positive earlier last week.

Prat, who won two of the last three summer riding championships at Del Mar, tested positive Sunday morning after returning from riding Saturday at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.

After the positive tests for Espinoza and Prat, Del Mar officials last Sunday requested assistance from the San Diego County Health Department to test all jockeys and jockey room personnel who had been at Del Mar for the three days of racing last weekend.

The testing of more than three dozen jockeys and workers close to them was completed Tuesday at Del Mar and the results were reported Wednesday to track officials.

Under COVID-19 reporting guidelines and the Health Insurance Privacy and Portability Act (HIPPA), Del Mar is not naming the jockeys who tested positive. Prat and Espinoza announced their positive tests.

Umberto Rispoli, who won seven races last weekend to take the early lead in the 2020 rider standings, and 2018 Del Mar riding champion Drayden Van Dyke tweeted Wednesday they also tested positive for COVID-19. Karina Contreras, the daughter of jockey Agapito Delgadillo, tweeted her father was positive as well.

Del Mar opened its 28-day summer meeting without spectators and under a set of safety protocols for essential workers that were drafted with the assistance of medical experts.

The track was already providing health screening, monitoring and testing for workers in the barn area and elsewhere. Workers on the backstretch have been isolated from the jockeys.

Del Mar on Wednesday said more safety measures would be taken before the season resumes.

  • More COVID-19 testing will be made available to backstretch workers and other personnel at Del Mar.
  • Before racing resumes, the track will reconfigure and expand the jockeys’ quarters, including moving some of the activities normally held in the jockeys’ room to an adjacent area.
  • Only jockeys based in California will be permitted to ride at Del Mar for the remainder of the summer season – meaning riders from the east will not be allowed to fly in and ride in the bigger stakes races this season. Also, local jockeys who leave the track to ride at other venues — as Prat did last weekend — will not be allowed to return to Del Mar.

Although no fans were in the stands last weekend, Del Mar’s first weekend produced an 18.1 percent gain over three comparable 2019 dates in the national total amount wagered.

— Bill Center is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune