Better air allows Belmont Park to reopen for training, racing

Better air allows Belmont Park to reopen for training, racing
Photo: Andrew Capone

Elmont, N.Y.

With air quality vastly improved, training and racing were allowed to resume Friday after being canceled the day before at Belmont Park, where the Belmont Stakes seems certain to go forward as scheduled Saturday.

“Following significant improvement in air-quality conditions throughout New York state, and in consultation with the New York State Gaming Commission, the New York Racing Association announced that live racing will resume at Belmont Park today at 12:50 p.m. (EDT),” the New York Racing Association said in a written statement Friday at 8:12 a.m. EDT.

Click here for Belmont Park entries and results.

That followed a NYRA text message sent to horsemen at 5:45 a.m. that said, “Attn Belmont and Saratoga trainers: Training is open this morning.”

The government’s AirNow air-quality index, the one the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority uses, showed a moderate reading of 67 at 6:40 a.m., a marked improvement from Wednesday’s peak reading of 184. That was when the smoke from fires in Canada reduced visibility to about a mile and left the sky a rusty brown.

Friday morning’s sky was blue with wispy clouds. The AQI forecast from AirNow still indicated a peak reading Friday afternoon of 120, which is considered “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” It did not, however, preclude racing from going forward.

The decision to proceed with training and racing Friday needed the blessing of the gaming commission, which Thursday ordered Belmont Park and the other racetracks under its watch to stop all racing, training and workouts indefinitely because of the poor air quality in the tri-state area.

The impetus for the order came from Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-N.Y.).

“As New Yorkers continue to experience unhealthy air quality as a result of Canadian wildfires, we must all work to ensure that animals, including those peak-performance equine athletes, are protected,” Hochul said. “The measures being implemented at tracks across New York state are effective steps to keep all those who participate in the sport safe now and into the future.”

A NYRA spokesperson said the commission already had been working with the association to determine how to go forward, including the suspension of training and racing Thursday.

“This guidance was arrived at in consultation with the New York Racing Association and is grounded in our shared efforts to provide the safest possible environment for training and racing Thoroughbred horses,” Pat McKenna of NYRA said. “NYRA will continue to closely monitor air quality in and around Belmont Park in the coming days, and we remain optimistic that conditions will allow for the resumption of training and racing on Friday.”

The gaming commission’s edict came after the New York Racing Association called off training at Belmont Park and Saratoga as well as races that had been scheduled for Thursday at Belmont.

The resumption of normal racetrack activity Friday raised optimism that the Belmont Stakes would happen on time Saturday at 7:02 p.m. EDT.

“Safety is paramount as we navigate this unprecedented situation,” NYRA boss David O’Rourke said in a written statement. “NYRA will actively monitor all available data and weather information as we work toward the resumption of training and racing both here at Belmont Park and at Saratoga Race Course. Based on current forecast models and consultation with our external weather services, we remain optimistic that we will see an improvement in air quality on Friday.”

With that optimism being rewarded, the Friday card that includes the Acorn (G1), Just a Game (G1), New York (G1), Belmont Gold Cup (G2) and Intercontinental (G3) will go ahead as drawn and scheduled.

Thursday’s canceled card included the Grade 2 Wonder Again Stakes and the listed Jersey Girl Stakes, both of which redrawn and postponed until Sunday.

Standards issued by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority call for racetrack managers to “monitor the facility daily if the AQI consistently reaches 100, and there is cause for concern in the local environment.” If the AQI gets to 150, HISA said, racetracks “may limit training to jogging and/or jogging and gallops only and be prepared to take further action if conditions worsen.” If it reaches 175, HISA said to “restrict activity at the track, including, but not limited to, canceling live racing, canceling official workouts and prohibiting galloping, breezing or anything more strenuous than a jog.”

The National Weather Service offered some hope for further relief with a 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms Friday after 11 a.m. EDT with a 20 percent chance they will linger into the night. Saturday was expected to be mostly sunny with a high near 78.

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