You can call what transpires today at Belmont Park a serendipitous collision of circumstances. Belmont Park opens for spectator-free racing Wednesday – 5 ½ weeks later than planned due to the coronavirus pandemic. And the star of the third race of a COVID-19-delayed meet is a 2-year-old horse named Fauci.

Dr. Anthony Fauci-Horse Namesake
Renowned infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has reached a peak celebrity level of sorts. The 4/5 favorite in the third race on Wednesday’s opening day at Belmont Park is named after him. (Image: Shawn Thew/EPA)

No, not that Fauci. But yes, named after that Fauci. The Wesley Ward-trained colt is named after Dr. Anthony Fauci, the renowned immunologist and Brooklyn native who is one of the world’s leading experts on infectious diseases.

Racing hasn’t happened in New York since Aqueduct shut down 11 weeks ago during the early stages of the pandemic. In the meantime, you’ve seen the 79-year-old Fauci – the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Health — play a prominent role during the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force press conferences.

Something like this could only happen in a year like 2020. After all, the coronavirus turned iconic tracks like Belmont Park, Santa Anita, and Churchill Downs into veritable ghost towns this spring. At the same time, it turned heretofore ghost tracks like Fonner Park and Will Rogers Downs into wagering and simulcast stars.

Equine Fauci More Accustomed to Spotlight than Dr. Fauci

So why not throw open Belmont Park’s gates – to horses, not fans, of course – with a race starring a horse named after a doctor who found the spotlight as accidentally as did Fonner Park?

“Phillip Antonacci purchased the horse at Keeneland,” Ward told the New York Racing Association’s Keith McCalmont. “Being of Italian-American descent, and for all the great work that Dr. Fauci’s done, they wanted to find a horse, especially in this time, that they could give a high-profile name to and this is the one.”

Antonacci paid $175,000 for the Malibu Moon progeny at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. The owners are Dave Reid and Frank Antonacci, Phillip’s father. Phillip Antonacci told the Daily Racing Form that his grandparents used to attend the same church as Fauci, and frequented a pharmacy owned by Fauci’s father.

Bad pun aside, infectious enthusiasm follows Fauci the horse on his debut, starting with his 4/5 morning line. While his dam, Tashzara went winless in nine career races – with five runners-up – his second dam, Sun Shower covered that up. Her progeny include Excelebration, winner of a Grade 1 turf race and $2.6 million in earnings, and millionaire Lancaster Bomber.

Fauci Opens Eyes With Keeneland Workouts

If that wasn’t enough, Ward brings more infectious enthusiasm to one of his prize 2-year-olds. Fauci turned in a bullet four-furlong workout on May 22. He’s breezed at Gulfstream Park West, Keeneland, and Turfway Park on his way to Belmont’s starting gate. Ward called his dirt workouts at Keeneland “eye-openers.”

“He’s training unbelievable. He’s a bigger colt. He doesn’t have a typical speed horse look to him,” said Ward, one of the world’s premier juvenile trainers. “It looks like he’ll go a little further. He has a long stride and is just an athlete. He goes just as far as you want him to.”

On Wednesday, that will be five furlongs against five other horses in a field featuring a horse named Garoppolo – named after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

Both Dr. Fauci and Jimmy G. signed off on their equine namesakes. Under Jockey Club rules, if a horse is named after a living person, that person must give permission.

So the longest period without racing in New York since 1975, the last winter before year-round racing began in the state, ends with a doctor’s namesake in the house. A doctor’s namesake in the house during a worldwide pandemic. In a year like 2020, you can’t make that up.