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#Horse racing brings healing, hope back to New York sports world

Horse racing brings healing, hope back to New York sports world

Mike Piazza didn’t hit a memorable New York home run Wednesday afternoon, and neither did Aaron Boone, and there was no forever roar rising to the heavens from inside Belmont Park.

There was, of course, no roar at all. The best sports could offer us on Wednesday was a temporary healing and a temporary hope for a better tomorrow and a respite from the twin scourges of racial injustice and COVID-19, and for now, it was enough.

Back in the saddle, one furlong at a time.

On a day when a two-year-old horse named Fauci failed to find a victorious cure, no less.

There were no fans at Belmont Park on Wednesday. So you bet it was different. You could have called the place Surrealmont Park.

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But at least there were horses running on one of our storied tracks again, magnificent horses running for the first time here since March 15, at Aqueduct, when COVID-19 decided it wouldn’t let any sport out of the starting gate, and there were excited jockeys riding those horses again, and media wearing masks getting their temperature taken at the Gate 5 entrance off Hempstead Turnpike and everyone affiliated with the NYRA wearing masks and everyone practicing social distancing once inside the Belmont Bubble.

A Day at the Races that felt more like a Day at the Opera.

The first New York sport getting back on its feet — hoofs, actually — during a deadly pandemic.

Racing returned to a Belmont Park without fans.Getty Images

The latest symbol of New York Tough. Just no soundtrack at the racetrack.

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Baseball opening days are a month away … hopefully. The NBA is resuming on July 31 in Orlando, and the NHL could be ready for its 24-team playoffs in mid-July. NFL training camps will open in late July, with the Jets and Giants on July 29.

There has been racing elsewhere. Just not here, where the virus has been so merciless. Finally, a light, however flickering, at the end of what has seemed like an endless, dark sports tunnel.

We wait for Gerrit Cole’s first pitch as a Yankee. We wait for Pete Alonso to be dangerous again. We wait for however long it will be for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant to play together in Brooklyn. We wait for the Knicks to hire a coach. We wait for Artemi Panarin to steam in on some unlucky goaltender.

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We will welcome them all back with open arms. From afar.

Understand that it won’t be the same. Understand that it can’t be the same. Understand that the silence will be deafening.

But as we wait for fans to one day return, at least our appetite for live sports was whetted with 10 horse races, and on this opening day, it didn’t seem to matter to the sports junkie in you that none of the thoroughbreds reminded anybody of Secretariat, because no one has since Big Red’s understanding of social distancing was a 31-length Triple Crown romp in 1973, and it didn’t seem to matter that none of the races was the Belmont Stakes, now scheduled for June 20 as the first Triple Crown race instead of the last, and less a Test of the Champion at 1 ¹/₈ mile instead of the traditional 1 ¹/₂.

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There was a moment of silence for COVID-19 victims, and the jockeys took a knee in the name of national unity, and track announcer John Imbriale bellowed, “We can finally say they are off and running at Belmont Park,” as Reylu Gutierrez rode Star of the West to victory in the first race.

“Unfortunately with fans, no fans, I don’t really pay attention to them or hear them; all I could hear is the footsteps getting quieter and quieter, which made me feel super-confident,” Gutierrez said.

Race 3 featured odds-on favorite Fauci, ridden not by Dr. Anthony Fauci but by Tyler Gaffalione. Alas, Fauci could not flatten the curve around the backstretch and placed ($2.40), 4-³/₄ lengths socially distanced behind Prisoner.

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One day, and it won’t be soon enough, the fans will be back. Sports without fans can’t possibly be the same. But we have learned how empty a city and a nation without sports truly are. We’ll take what we can get for now.

So let’s let The Sport of Kings wear the crown proudly for now. Silence isn’t always golden. But live sports sure are.

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