ARCADIA, Calif. –The view and the track at Santa Anita Park are home for longtime jockey, Aaron Gryder.
But reporting to work at the Great Race Place has given new meaning to the word "home" over the last month.
"Right now, I'm standing in front of what has been our home for the last seven weeks," Gryder explained pointing towards a line of trailers. "The jockeys have had to come together and be under quarantine.”
It's a new normal for the sport, which was one of the first to return to live events in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The park first barred spectators from any of the meets on March 13, but the Health Department shut down all races just a few weeks later.
In all, the track was quiet from March 27 through May 15, when Santa Anita was permitted to begin racing again after implementing a slew of new health and safety protocols.
“We’re [usually] at the track at 5:30 in the morning until the sun sets and so for you to take that away and have nothing, it was a big void in a lot of people’s lives," Gryder explained.
"Now, when we check in prior to checking in to our trailers, we’ve already tested, so our tests have come back and everyone is negative.”
In addition to weekly testing, there are mandatory temperature checks for all personnel, social distancing requirements, increased sanitation, a restricted zone for jockeys, and far less staff roaming the grounds — all safety measures that prevented any major outbreaks.
While different, Gryder said the return to racing was a step forward in the sports world which lay silent for so long and a bright spot for the sports community.
"For us here that are race trackers having racing going is everything," Gryder said. "And for everyone, when they were confined to their homes and they had no sports, racing became their central point."
"They could sit down, watch and enjoy, get in on the action and the competitiveness.”
And as more sports gear up for a return to live play, horse racing at Santa Anita can also provide somewhat of a model as to what we can expect moving forward.
"Things still aren’t back to normal and we still don’t know what that is," Gryder said. "It's been unique."