Spectators fill the Belmont Park grandstand for the horse races preceding...

Spectators fill the Belmont Park grandstand for the horse races preceding the 2023 Belmont Stakes. Credit: James Escher

The Belmont Stakes could be moving upstate for the next two years, and “The Test of the Champion” wouldn’t be as long of a test if it does make that move from Long Island.

Belmont Park is headed for reconstruction following the approval of the state’s budget, which included a $455 million loan to NYRA for the project. So the third jewel in thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown series is going to need a temporary home.

NYRA wants it to be Saratoga. It will depend on regulatory approval.

An announcement regarding next year’s race could be made in the coming months, possibly by November. NYRA had announced in June that it wanted to conduct the 2025 Belmont at Saratoga because of the anticipated construction timeline. The hope would be for the race to then return home in 2026.

It also wouldn’t be practical to run the usual 1 1/2 miles because of the track length at Saratoga, so the race would likely be 1 1/4 miles.

“While subject to the approval of both the Franchise Oversight Board and the New York State Gaming Commission, NYRA’s goal at this point is to hold the Belmont Stakes at Saratoga Race Course in both 2024 and 2025 to allow for the ongoing work at Belmont to continue uninterrupted,” said Patrick McKenna, NYRA’s vice president of communications.  

“This is the result of the progress made on significant capital improvement projects that are critical to the new Belmont Park, most notably the synthetic racing surface as well as the second infield tunnel, which will eventually provide access for horses to the synthetic surface.”

Those improvement projects are separate from the rebuild that will feature the replacement of the clubhouse and the grandstand. The demolition hasn’t started. The construction timeline still needs to be finalized. The last renovation happened in 1968. 

“The transformation of Belmont Park will secure the future of thoroughbred racing in New York State, create thousands of good jobs and drive tourism to Long Island and the region for decades to come,” NYRA President and CEO David O’Rourke said in May.

The 2024 Belmont would likely be held on Saturday, June 8. The Preakness is usually scheduled for two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, but officials behind the running of the second Triple Crown race have spoken about possibly pushing it back to four weeks after the Derby.

So would that impact the Belmont? 

McKenna put it this way: “NYRA has no plans to move off the traditional date of the Belmont Stakes.”

NYRA’s vision for the Belmont the next two years at Saratoga would be similar to what it is now, a multiday racing festival in early June.

“We would then return downstate to Aqueduct for the rest of the spring meet,” McKenna said, “and reconvene in Saratoga for the traditional 40-day summer meet in mid-July that would conclude on Labor Day.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office did not respond to a request for comment. The Town of Hempstead, the Long Island Regional Planning Council and other local business/hospitality groups did not immediately respond to messages seeking information on the potential economic impact of temporarily losing the Belmont Stakes.

With Michael O'Keeffe

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