Belmont Park is a major Thoroughbred horse-racing facility located in Elmont, New York, just outside New York City limits. It first opened on May 4, 1905. It is typically open for racing from late April through mid-July (known as the Spring meet), and again from mid-September through late October (the Fall meet).
The race park's main dirt track has earned the nickname, "the Big Sandy", given its prominent overall dimensions and the deep, sometimes tiring surface. Belmont is also sometimes known as "The Championship Track" because almost every major champion in racing history since the early 20th century has competed on the racecourse – including all of the Triple Crown winners. Along with Saratoga Race Course, in Upstate New York, Keeneland Race Course, in Lexington, Kentucky, Churchill Downs, in Louisville, Kentucky, and Del Mar and Santa Anita racecourses, in Southern California, Belmont is considered one of the elite racetracks in the sport.
Belmont Park is operated by the non-profit New York Racing Association, as are Aqueduct and Saratoga Race Course. The group was formed in 1955 as the Greater New York Association to assume the assets of the individual associations that ran Belmont, Aqueduct, Saratoga Race Course, and the now-defunct Jamaica Racetrack.
August Belmont, Jr. and William Collins Whitney, along with other investors, built the original Belmont race track which opened on May 4, 1905. In its first 15 or so years, Belmont Park featured racing clockwise, in the "English fashion"—allowing the upper-class members of the racing association and their guests to have the races finish in front of the clubhouse, just to the west of the grandstand. (A "field stand," at what was then the top of the stretch, was located east of the grandstand). The original finish line was located at the top of the present-day homestretch. In his 1925 book, "The Big Town", Ring W. Lardner refers to the then-recent directional change, when he has a character at Belmont say (speaking of a recent race) "At that time, they run the wrong way of the track, like you would deal cards".
The old clubhouse was torn down in the 1950s, along with the Manice Mansion—the turreted 19th-century homestead that served as the headquarters of Belmont's Turf and Field Club.
A later innovation was created by Joseph E. Widener, who took over track leadership when August Belmont II died in 1924: the Widener Chute. It was a straightaway of just under 7 furlongs (1,400 m) that cut diagonally through Belmont's training and main tracks, hitting near the quarter-pole of the main track. The course was removed in 1958.
There are presently two features of Old Belmont Park remaining today. First is the display of four stone pillars on Hempstead Turnpike, a gift from the Mayor and Park Commissioners of the City of Charleston, S.C. The pillars had stood at the entrance of the Washington Course of the South Carolina Jockey Club in Charleston, S.C., which operated from 1792 to 1882. The stone pillars are now found at the clubhouse entrance. Lesser known-but more visible-are the racing motif iron railings seen partially bordering the walking ring. The railings, used as decoration on the south side of the old Belmont grandstand, were salvaged during the 1963 demolition.
The original Belmont Park was not only unprecedented in its size, but also had the then-new innovation of a Long Island Rail Road extension from the Queens Village station, running along the property, tunneling under Hempstead Turnpike, then terminating on the south side of the property. The train terminal was moved to its present location north of the turnpike after the 1956 season.
Near the railroad terminal was yet another track—Belmont Park Terminal, a steeplechase course operated by United Hunts until 1927.
In addition to racing history, Belmont Park made history in another industry native to the Hempstead Plains—aviation. Some 150,000 people were drawn to the track on October 30, 1910 at the climax of a Wright Brothers-staged international aerial tournament, which had started eight years earlier. The event came at the beginning of a period (1910, 1911 and 1912) in which racing was outlawed in New York State.
Today, two displays in the clubhouse of the current Belmont Park commemorate the history of the racetrack: a long mural by Pierre Bellocq featuring the dominant jockeys, trainers and racing personalities of the track's history; and a series of paintings of Old Belmont Park that were featured at a nearby restaurant before the eatery closed.
The last race at the old Belmont Park was run in October 1962. The following spring, NYRA Chairman James Cox Brady announced that two separate engineering surveys found the grandstand/clubhouse was unsafe due to age-induced structural defects and needed to be rebuilt. The book Belmont Park: A Century of Champions noted the comment of NYRA President Edward T. Dickinson: "When you sighted down the stands, you could see some of the beams were twisted. They were in something of an S-shape."
The old structure was demolished in 1963. The new grandstand was built 1964–1968. (The Inner Turf Course was also added during this time.) The Belmont race meetings were moved to Aqueduct Racetrack in South Ozone Park, Queens, during that time.
The new $30.7 million Belmont Park grandstand, designed by Arthur Froehlich, was opened May 20, 1968 and is the largest in Thoroughbred racing. It has a total attendance capacity of more than 100,000, with the adjoining backyard being able to accommodate more than 10,000. The seating portion totals nearly 33,000. (Ironically, the smaller, more cramped Churchill Downs grandstand has more seats than Belmont, 51,000.) Unlike Churchill and Pimlico, Belmont does not allow paying spectators to picnic in the infield.
In May 2007, reports surfaced suggesting that then New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was considering closing Aqueduct Racetrack, which is ten miles west of Belmont in Ozone Park, New York, and turning Belmont into a nearly year 'round race track when the New York Racing Association lease for all three of New York State's tracks expired at the end of 2007. According to the plans being discussed, Belmont's stands would be heated, additional barns built for Aqueduct's 400 horses, and the track modified to accommodate winter racing. In addition, video lottery machines would be introduced. A new entity would operate Belmont from fall to spring while the New York Racing Association would operate Saratoga Race Course in the summer. Any plans the former governor might have had for the track alignment likely left office with him when Spitzer was forced to resign amid a prostitution scandal in March 2008.
In July 2017, New York State officials announced that vacant parking lots behind the Belmont grandstand had been put to tender for two area top-level professional sports teams: the New York Islanders, an NHL professional hockey team; and New York City FC, an MLS soccer team. Both teams were unhappy with their current locations (the Islanders at Barclays Center; New York City FC Yankee Stadium) and proposed to redevelop the land into their own stadiums. The Islanders proposed an 18,000 seat sports arena, 435,000 square feet for retail development, a 225-room hotel, and a 10,000-sq ft community center, while NYCFC's pledge included a 26,000 seat soccer ground, 400,000 sq ft for retail, a 5.2 acre community park, and 2 acre soccer complex: both proposals were fully privately funded and included improved parking and LIRR facilities as well. On December 20, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the Islanders project had won approval to be built, and the Belmont Park Arena will be opened in time for the 2020-21 hockey season. However, the New York City FC proposal was rejected.
The Belmont Stakes was named after financier and sportsman August Belmont, Sr., who helped fund the race, and most sources say the racetrack itself was also named for him. Other sources say Belmont Park was named in honor of his son—August Belmont II, a key member of the Westchester Racing Association, which established the racecourse.
The race was first run in 1867 at Jerome Park Racetrack in the Bronx. In 1937, the wrought iron gates that bore an illustration of that first Belmont Stakes were donated to the track by August Belmont II's sole surviving son, Perry Belmont. The gates are now on the fourth floor of Belmont Park's clubhouse.
The Belmont Stakes races have been run at Belmont Park since 1905, with the exceptions of 1911–12, when gambling was banned in New York State; and the 1963–67 editions, held at Aqueduct while the grandstands at Belmont Park were reconstructed. The first post parade in the United States was at the 14th Belmont, in 1880.
Secretariat's finishing time in his 1973 Belmont victory (2 minutes, 24 seconds) set a world record for 1 1⁄2 miles (2.4 km) on dirt, a world record which still stands. The 31-length victory clinched the first Triple Crown in 25 years, dating back to Citation in 1948. A statue of Secretariat is in the center of the Belmont paddock.
Another Belmont Stakes achievement is recognized by the "Woody's Corner" display in the first-floor clubhouse lobby, commemorating the five consecutive Belmont Stakes winners trained by Woody Stephens from 1982 to 1986.
Other memorable performances in Belmont Park history include the opening of the track in 1905 with the famous dead heat between Sysonby and Race King in the Met Cap. In 1923, Belmont Park was host to an international duel between the American and English champions: Zev, winner of the Kentucky Derby, against Papyrus, winner of The Derby. Zev won by five lengths in front of the biggest crowd for a match race in a hundred years.
Belmont Park was the site of the tragedy-marred victory of Foolish Pleasure over champion filly Ruffian in a 1975 match race. Ruffian broke down during the race and had to be euthanized; she is buried near the finish line in the infield at Belmont Park, her nose pointed towards the finish pole.
The racetrack was also the site of Affirmed's epic stretch duel with Alydar in the 1978 Belmont Stakes, a victory that gave Affirmed the Triple Crown; and Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew's defeat of Affirmed in the Marlboro Cup in September of that same year. The Marlboro, a key event of the Fall Championship meets in the 1970s and 1980s, included a dramatic come-from-behind win by Forego in the 1976 installment.
Officials of the New York Racing Association made a concerted effort to boost attendance on Belmont Stakes Day after the 1995 installment drew only 37,171. In 1997, NYRA and local officials put together the Long Island Belmont Stakes Festival—featuring parades, food fests and other events in surrounding communities to promote the big race. The effort succeeded in creating a buzz around the Belmont Stakes apart from the chance of seeing a Triple Crown. The 2000 and 2001 Belmonts—both run when there was no Triple Crown on the line—drew announced crowds of 67,810 and 73,857. The Belmont Stakes Festival continues to be held in communities near the track, such as Floral Park and Garden City. In 2004, a record attendance of 120,139 was on hand to see if Smarty Jones would be the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.
American Pharoah won the Belmont Stakes on June 6, 2015, becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. It was announced before the race that attendance would be capped at 90,000. Compared to the 2015 Kentucky Derby and Preakness which both set attendance records of over 170,000 and 130,000 respectively.
Belmont Park also has a history of early aviation shows and tournaments that dates back to the early 1900s.
Harriet Quimby, the first USA woman to obtain a pilot's license, learned of the excitement of flight at the Belmont Park International Aviation Tournament on Long Island, New York in 1910 where she met famed aviator John Moisant and his sister.
In addition to the Belmont Stakes, other major races held at Belmont have included the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Woodward Stakes, the Suburban Handicap and the Memorial Day standby—the Metropolitan Handicap, also known as the "Met Mile." (NYRA moved the Woodward to Saratoga Race Course, in 2006.)
Two important races for fillies, the Mother Goose Stakes and the Coaching Club American Oaks, are also run at Belmont as the first two installments of the New York Racing Association's Triple Tiara series for fillies. The third is the Alabama Stakes, run at Saratoga. In years past, the New York Filly Triple Crown consisted of the Mother Goose, CCA Oaks and another Belmont race, the Acorn Stakes (which is still run at the track).
All of the above races are contested on dirt; notable turf (grass) races include the Bowling Green Handicap, Man O' War Stakes, Flower Bowl Invitational Stakes and the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational.
Belmont's Fall Championship meet includes New York Showcase Day in late October, with seven stakes races for New York-bred horses. The richest race on that program is the $250,000 Empire Classic Handicap.
Racing at Belmont Park is conducted in two annual installments, or "meetings": The "spring-summer meeting," which usually begins on the second Wednesday in May and lasts through the fourth Sunday in July, followed by a "fall meeting" commencing on the Friday after Labor Day and ending the fourth Sunday in October. Racing is held at Saratoga Race Course, during the time between these two meetings. Prior to 1977 a summer meeting was contested at Aqueduct from mid-June until the Saratoga meet began; its abolition led to the Belmont spring meeting being lengthened to its present duration (and eventual renaming).
The autumn installment is known as the Fall Championship meet, since many of the eventual Eclipse Award title winners have earned key victories in some of the meeting's races, such as the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Before the advent of the Breeders' Cup series in the mid-1980s, the Belmont Fall Championship races themselves helped determine the divisional championships.
Belmont has been home to the daylong Breeders' Cup championship in 1990, 1995, 2001 (the first major sports event to be held after the September 11 Attacks in the metropolitan area) and most recently in 2005.
Belmont's backyard is well known as a gathering place for racing fans to see their horses saddled before they hit the track. The center of the paddock is dominated by a white pine that predated the track itself—it turned 180 years old in 2006. A stylized version of the pine has been the centerpiece of Belmont Park's corporate logo since 1968.
The paddock area also serves as a picnic area for the increasing numbers of fans who make Belmont Stakes Day—the Saturday that falls within the range of June 5 through June 11—a tourist attraction.
The 430-acre (170 ha) racing, training and barn complex is located on the western edge of the Nassau County region known as the Hempstead Plains. Just a few miles (kilometers) east on the same plains, the first racing meet in North America was held in 1665, supervised by colonial governor Richard Nicolls.
The dirt racecourse, known officially as the Main Track and nicknamed "Big Sandy" by racing followers, has a circumference of 1 1⁄2 miles (2.4 km), the longest dirt thoroughbred racetrack in North America. Immediately inside of this is the Widener Turf Course (named after the Widener family that has a long and prestigious history in American horse racing) spanning 1 5⁄16 miles (2.1 km) plus 27 feet (8.2 m), which in turn encircles an Inner Turf Course with a circumference of 1 3⁄16 miles (1.9 km) plus 103 feet (31 m). On the Main Track, it is 1,097 feet (334 m) from the top of the stretch to the finish line, and the segment between the wire and the start of the first (clubhouse) turn covers 843 feet (257 m); this latter segment is shorter by approximately 165 feet (50 m) on both of the turf courses, in order to accommodate the two chutes that exist on the Widener Turf Course, from which turf races of 1 mile (1.6 km) and 1 1⁄16 miles (1.7 km) are started; an additional chute exists for races of 1 1⁄16 miles (1.7 km) on the Inner Turf Course.
A straightaway chute leads on to the backstretch of the Main Track and permits races on the dirt up to 1 1⁄8 miles (1.8 km) long to be run with one turn. The chute used to extend further back across the training track but was shortened because a crossover is now infeasible given the clay base of the Main Track and stone-dust base of the training track. Before the 1990 Breeders' Cup, the outer rail of the Main Track was moved back to widen the middle of the clubhouse turn and soften the angle of the start of the 1 1⁄4 miles (2.0 km) Classic. The training track is 1 mile (1.6 km) in circumference and abuts the east end of the main track. In March 2009, lights were added to the training track as a safety measure to prevent early morning workouts from occurring in the dark.
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The racetrack, grandstand, training, and barn facilities are located entirely in the community of Elmont in Nassau County, New York. According to the City of New York's own map portal, the Long Island Rail Road station on the property, the ramp between the grandstand and the train station, and some of the adjoining parking fields straddle the Queens County line.
Belmont Park has direct on- and off-ramps to the Cross Island Parkway, which runs north-south and is just to the west of the park. Belmont Park's physical address is given as 2150 Hempstead Turnpike (New York State Route 24).
The Belmont Park property originally totaled some 650 acres (2.6 km2). Because the property stretched slightly into Queens, bookmakers in the track's early days—when bookmaking was illegal—could escape arrest from one county's authorities by jumping over the border. It was once even believed that horses rounding the far turn crossed into Queens and then came back to Nassau for the stretch run. After the 1956 season, the construction of a wider bus road beyond the main course's final turn forced the turn to be shortened. According to the Belmont publication commemorating the track's 1968 reopening, that move cut 96 feet (29 m) off its circumference. The current layout has the entire racing course inside Nassau County.
Because of Belmont's role hosting big, nationally televised races on broadcast and cable TV, its track announcers have been among the best known in the sport. Among the famous race callers who've served as Belmont PA announcers are Fred Capossela, Dave Johnson, Chic Anderson, Marshall Cassidy, Tom Durkin, and present voice Larry Collmus.
Contrary to popular belief, Johnson, not Anderson, was Belmont Park's PA announcer during Secretariat's 1973 romp in the Belmont Stakes. It was on TV that Anderson called the 1973 Belmont Stakes aired by CBS Television, where he famously described Big Red as "moving like a tremendous machine". Anderson was the TV "voice of horse racing" in the 1970s and the announcer at Churchill Downs during Secretariat's racing career. Johnson went on to be TV's voice of horse racing in the 1990s.
Anderson would succeed Johnson as announcer at Belmont and the other NYRA tracks in May 1977, serving until his death on March 24, 1979. Anderson was followed by frequent backup voice Marshall Cassidy, who was the lead caller of NYRA races until Durkin replaced him in September 1990.
Sources: New York Racing Association (NYRA), City of New York
Scenes for the Woody Allen movies Mighty Aphrodite (1995) and Melinda and Melinda (2004) were shot at Belmont Park, as was a paddock scene for the 1990s remake of the film Gloria with Sharon Stone and George C. Scott.
Belmont has hosted a wide range of top musical acts including Billy Joel, Kenny Rogers, Natalie Cole and Blondie. Titled the Coca-Cola Sunset Series, these fan based events were produced by music impresario, Richard Flanzer.
A January 1975 episode of the ABC sitcom The Odd Couple — entitled "Felix the Horse Player"—was filmed partly at Belmont Park, though one of the race clips on the show features the shot of an Aqueduct starting gate.
Belmont Park was featured on season finale of The Amazing Race 27.
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