On Saturday, Belmont Park will remind the world what it and horse racing once were. With perfect weather and a Triple Crown hopeful generating excitement, this day could fool fans into thinking the event represents the gorgeous track’s future. But for racing to thrive there, Belmont has to provide a better experience every day that includes more than racing. And Aqueduct, the area’s other track, must close.
The New York Racing Association is required to create a strategic plan for the three state-owned tracks it operates, Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga, by next April. The challenge is to attract the young gamblers who prefer the rush of casinos over the slow pace of gambling on horses. Yet the pursuit is still exciting. Racing can have a future.
Belmont, with 1 million square feet of enclosed space that can hold 100,000 people, is the largest grandstand in racing. That’s great for the Belmont Stakes, but it’s inefficient when few people show up for the daily card. Belmont needs an overhaul that would create a much smaller, heated grandstand, freeing up space for retail, restaurants and entertainment. The parking lots are vast and can be put to far more enticing uses, too.
And Belmont needs more synergistic partners. The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, which just reopened near the track to provide critical care and specialty treatment to horses, is a good example.
Such overhauls have brought some success at other tracks. Aqueduct, a lesser track that houses the fabulously profitable Resorts World Casino, should cease its racing. Concentrating horse racing at Belmont, would free Aqueduct for development, as well.
The reimagining of Belmont must also include a plan for 36 state-owned acres on the periphery of the park. A decision on whether to build a soccer stadium has been awaited for almost two years. With the area blossoming, there will be enough demand to refurbish the Belmont LIRR station, now obsolete and open only on race days.
It’s a long shot that California Chrome can save racing. The better bet is that a new vision can save Belmont Park.