The Belmont Stakes — the most highly attended annual sporting event on Long Island — is expected to proceed on Saturday evening, despite the poor air quality stemming from Canadian wildfires, Nassau County and racing officials said Wednesday.
State officials have urged New Yorkers to limit outdoor activities and many school districts preemptively canceled outside activities Wednesday, with New York City registering the world's worst air quality.
During an outdoor news conference at the Garden City Hotel, with a heavy fog of smoke blanketing the sky, Nassau County and New York Racing Association officials each projected an air of confidence, suggesting the air quality will significantly improve by post time on Saturday.
"We're anticipating, barring any change in weather conditions and wind, that it will dissipate to a large extent sometime Friday evening. Saturday should be much better," said Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said. "But we are monitoring the situation along with the state. And right now it looks like everything's a go and that there should be no problems. That it will be safe for people to attend the race. It will be safe for the competitors. It will be safe for the horses."
However, state officials, along with Long Island meteorologists, project the poor air quality may continue into the weekend.
"This is expected to go for the next few days. There was some thought yesterday that this would abate by Friday," Gov. Kathy Hochul said Wednesday morning. "I just received an update … that is not expected. So people need to prepare for this over the long haul."
A crowd of 40,000 to 50,000 fans is expected to attend the 155th running of the Belmont Stakes, despite any air quality issues, said David O’Rourke, NYRA's chief executive and president.
"This is something you have to monitor," O'Rourke said of the air quality. "It kind of goes with the way the wind looks. So safety is job one. Feedback from the jockeys is really the best that we can get. And so far so good, but we'll continue to monitor this."
NYRA spokesman Patrick McKenna said the air quality at Belmont Park was monitored by nearby weather service agencies and by on-site equipment.
“While we have every expectation of conducting the entirety of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival on schedule as planned, NYRA will actively monitor conditions here at Belmont Park throughout the weekend,” McKenna said.
Javier Castellano of Garden City, the winning jockey in this year's Kentucky Derby, and John Velazquez of West Hempstead, the winning jockey at the 2023 Preakness Stakes, both said they were outside Wednesday training with their respective horses to compete in the Belmont Stakes. The horses, they said, seemed unaffected by the diminished air quality.
"The horses are breathing right and I don't see anything changing," Velazquez said at the news conference. "It seems everything is in good order and the horses came back really fine."