An early morning workout at Belmont Park in Elmont June 7,...

An early morning workout at Belmont Park in Elmont June 7, 2022. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

ALBANY — Gov. Kathy Hochul will back a plan for the state to loan $455 million to make extensive improvements at Belmont Park — including a new grandstand and clubhouse and new racing surfaces at the venerable horse racing track.

The governor included the funding initiative as part of her proposed state budget on Wednesday.

Horse racing and local business groups had been lobbying the state to back the funding as a way to move to consolidate racing at Aqueduct and Belmont to year-round racing at Belmont — and perhaps persuade the Breeders' Cup World Championship Series to return to Nassau County after a nearly 20-year absence.

The New York Racing Association will repay the money in $26 million annual installments until the loan is paid off — meaning it will be no cost to taxpayers, the Hochul administration said.

“This project will be a transformative one for western Long Island and our entire state,” Hochul said in a statement to Newsday. “Modernizing Belmont checks so many boxes, from boosting our economy through our world-class reputation for horse racing, creating nearly 4,000 good-paying construction jobs, and to support the men and women and their families who support our horse racing industry, all while making this a world-class sports and hospitality destination. A truly winning proposition.”

Hochul will seek to include the financing as part of a budget deal with the State Legislature by April 1, the start of New York’s fiscal year.

If the loan is approved, the administration said the redevelopment plans would include:

  • Overhauling the clubhouse and grandstand, making them “state of the art” and compliant with accessibility and safety regulations.
  • Building all new racing surfaces, including two new turf courses.
  • “Unlocking” 45 acres of infield space and creating a new four-acre park/picnic area with a track view.

The renovations are expected to take about three years to complete.

The Hochul administration said the redevelopment of Belmont Park, along with the nearby Islanders home at UBS Arena, would help make the Elmont area a “world class sports and hospitality destination.”

NYRA has been advocating for the project for several years, joining with horse race owners and trainers and local chambers of commerce. But it hasn't gained enough political traction to win approval in the State Legislature.

Gaining Hochul’s support likely dramatically changes the project’s chances. Additionally, the project garnered important political support last week when unions representing carpenters, electrical workers, steamfitters and others joined the lobbying effort.

While pushing year-round racing at Belmont, supporters say the redevelopment could help bring the return of the Breeders' Cup — the so-called Super Bowl of Horse Racing, held every fall. It was last held at Belmont in 2005.

Groups that been promoting Belmont redevelopment applauded Hochul.

“Modernizing Belmont Park is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to secure the future of horse racing for generations to come, while boosting our economy and creating jobs," said Matt Cohen, president and CEO of the Long Island Association. "That’s why it’s a major priority on Long Island and we commend Governor Hochul for recognizing this project’s importance by including it in her budget."

In contrast, a coalition that has been lobbying to end government subsidies for horse racing called the proposal the "Belmont boondoggle."

"Another state budget and another windfall for billionaire sports owners," said Edita Birnkrant, head of the  Campaign to End Horse Racing Subsidies. "Unfortunately for this Belmont boondoggle, horse racing is a dying industry." 

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