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NYRA: Belmont Park upgrades will make it safer for horses

A rendering provided by New York Racing Association of the upgrades planned for Belmont Park, which include a synthetic track. Credit: AP

Belmont Racetrack will represent “the gold standard for equine health and safety” when it reopens in 2026, the New York Racing Association said, because of the addition of a synthetic track and infrastructure improvements done for the first time in a half century.

While construction crews add a new drainage system that will help maintain the moisture levels in the surface, a new fourth track will be added that some view as the future of racing. Made up of a mix of waxed sand and fiber, synthetic tracks have shown to cut racing fatalities to horses  in half elsewhere, leading some in the racing industry to believe they will soon be the dominant racing surface here.

“Me personally, I'm like, what are we waiting for?” said Joe Appelbaum, a longtime owner and breeder.

Glen Kozak, NYRA’s executive vice president in charge of the track maintenance, added, "I certainly love the stability of it, and how consistent it is."

But not everyone believes synthetic tracks represent the future. Some trainers and veterinarians question whether they lead to more soft-tissue injuries in horses, and many trainers, breeders and owners are traditionalists who can’t shake the idea of not running horses on dirt.

“Dirt racing is American racing, you know?” said Tina Bond, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which represents horse owners and trainers in discussions with NYRA.

Regarding synthetic tracks, Bond added: “I don’t think it’s the end-all, but I think it has a place.”

The new synthetic track is part of a $100 million track reconstruction that NYRA is funding alongside the construction of a new grandstand that is separately backed by a $455 million state loan.

Construction at Belmont Park on May 17. A new synthetic...

Construction at Belmont Park on May 17. A new synthetic track and drainage system are part of the $100 million track reconstruction at the racetrack. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

In addition to the synthetic track, NYRA is rebuilding two turf tracks and a dirt track that will feature a limestone base with a clay pad to provide additional cushion for the horses. Underneath the tracks will sit a new modernized drainage system optimized to maintain moisture levels in the surface.

NYRA spokesman Pat McKenna said the synthetic track likely will be Belmont's primary racing surface in the winter and used as a bad-weather alternative throughout the rest of the year. In a statement, he said the synthetic track "will enhance equine safety, support field size during inclement weather and provide horsemen with another year-round training option."

Kozak expects the synthetic track will quickly become popular for training in bad weather because trainers prefer to keep horses on a set training schedule. He said the synthetic track also will help maintain the condition of the turf track, which more easily breaks down over time.

“Continuously improving equine safety is an organizational imperative at NYRA that motivates all aspects of the operation and informs every decision around the training and racing infrastructure at the new Belmont Park," McKenna said. "Whether it’s the adoption of an all-weather synthetic surface, or the complete reconstruction of the main dirt surface and turf courses, the new Belmont Park will provide horses and riders with the most reliable and consistent track surfaces in the sport of horse racing."

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