Next year’s Belmont Stakes will not be run at Belmont Park on the Queens/Nassau border, Governor Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday.
The third leg of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown will instead be run upstate at Saratoga Race Course as part of a special spring racing festival while the $450 million reconstruction of Belmont Park continues. Saratoga traditionally hosts racing from mid-July through Labor Day on the New York Racing Association (NYRA) circuit, but the Belmont rebuild — which will include a new, smaller grandstand and renovated racing surfaces — has necessitated major changes to the racing schedule.
Traditionally, the Belmont Stakes brings crowds of between 50,000 and 90,000 to Belmont Park, the number often titling higher whenever a Triple Crown sweep is possible — as it was in 2015 and 2018, when American Pharoah and Justify, respectively, became the 12th and 13th Triple Crown winners. But the ongoing project made it impossible to host racing at Belmont next year.
Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, which was downsized years ago with the development of the Resorts World New York City casino, will host in 2024 other race dates normally run at Belmont, but lacks the seating capacity to accommodate an event such as the Belmont Stakes.
Saratoga, however, has a capacity of about 50,000 patrons; NYRA has spent millions of dollars upgrading the facility in recent years, and the track normally gets close to a million fans during its 40-day summer racing meet.
The four-day Belmont Stakes festival at Saratoga, scheduled for June 6-9, figures to get large crowds for the novelty meet. The Belmont Stakes itself will also be different; the traditional 1 1/2 mile distance will be truncated to 1 1/4 miles because of Saratoga’s smaller 1 1/8 mile main track.
NYRA is also increasing the Belmont Stakes purse next year from $1.5 million to $2 million. Purses for all of the stakes races to be run during the festival meet will also be increased to attract some of the nation’s best horses.
In her announcement Wednesday, Hochul called the Belmont Stakes-at-Saratoga meet “a win for horse racing and for the Capitol Region to have the excitement and the ability to host the four-day festival.”
As for Belmont Park, Hochul’s office says the rebuild — the first since the current grandstand was built in the 1960s — will generate $1 billion in “construction-related impacts,” including 3,700 construction jobs and 740 new full-time jobs. The new grandstand, while expected to be much smaller than the current facility, will include various amenities and access to the spacious Belmont infield, making the track better suited for hosting big events like the Belmont Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, a fall racing festival last hosted at Belmont in 2005.
Patrick McKenna, a NYRA spokesperson, told amNewYork Metro on Wednesday that the Belmont project will be complete in 2026.
The improvements include renovations to the massive Belmont Park track — a 1 1/2 mile dirt oval and two turf courses within. NYRA is also building a synthetic racing oval within the turf courses to accommodate year-round racing in all types of weather.
In recent years, NYRA officials have announced their intent to consolidate racing operations downstate at Belmont after the rebuild is completed. That would mean the end of racing at Aqueduct, clearing the way for the 87-acre site’s eventual redevelopment.
McKenna said that NYRA “currently working on the installation of the synthetic surface, with the renovation of the main track and two surfaces to come. In addition, the construction of a pedestrian tunnel connecting the infield with the grandstand is well underway.”
“A more detailed timeline for various aspects of the project will be available in the coming weeks,” McKenna said.
For now, Aqueduct will be hosting NYRA racing for roughly 10 of 12 months in 2024, taking over Belmont’s regular spring, summer and fall racing dates with Saratoga’s Belmont Stakes festival and summer meets sandwiched in between. The regular Saratoga meet runs from July 11 through Sept. 2.
Updated on Dec. 6 at 12:05 p.m. with comment from the NYRA.