Belmont Park (Elmont, NY)
(Racing Dates: 6/03/2020 - 7/12/2020, 09/06/2020 - 10/27/2020)
Belmont Park is a major thoroughbred horse racing facility in the northeastern United States, located in Elmont, New York, just east of the New York City limits. It was opened on May 4, 1905.
It is operated by the non-profit New York Racing Association, as are Aqueduct and Saratoga Race Course. The group was formed in 1955 as the Greater New York Association to assume the assets of the individual associations that ran Belmont, Aqueduct, Saratoga, and the now-defunct Jamaica Race Course.
Belmont Park is typically open for racing from late April through mid-July (known as the Spring meet), and again from mid-September through late October (the Fall meet). It is widely-known as the home of the Belmont Stakes in early June, regarded as the "Test of the Champion", the third leg of the Triple Crown.
Along with Saratoga Race Course in Upstate New York, Keeneland and Churchill Downs in Kentucky, and Del Mar and Santa Anita in California, Belmont is considered one of the elite racetracks in North America.
The race park's main dirt track has earned the nickname, "the Big Sandy," given its prominent overall dimensions (1 1⁄2 miles (2.4 km)) and the deep, sometimes tiring surface. Belmont is also sometimes known as "The Championship Track" because almost every major champion in racing history since the early 20th century has competed on the racecourse – including all of the Triple Crown winners.
Belmont Park, with its wide, sweeping turns and long homestretch, is considered one of the fairest racetracks. The Hall of Fame champion Easy Goer graces the cover of the 2005 book, "Belmont Park: A Century of Champions," with paintings by Richard Stone Reeves and text by Edward L. Bowen.
The book chronicles seventy racehorses who competed from 1905 to 2005 thrilling fans, setting records, and becoming legends at the venerable New York track.
Belmont hosted its largest crowd in 2004, when 120,139 saw Smarty Jones upset by Birdstone in its Triple Crown bid.
August Belmont Jr. and William Collins Whitney, along with other investors, built the original Belmont race track which opened on May 4, 1905. In its first 15 or so years, Belmont Park featured racing clockwise, in the "English fashion"—allowing the upper-class members of the racing association and their guests to have the races finish in front of the clubhouse, just to the west of the grandstand. (A "field stand," at what was then the top of the stretch, was located east of the grandstand).
The original finish line was located at the top of the present-day homestretch. In his 1925 book, "The Big Town", Ring W. Lardner refers to the then-recent directional change, when he has a character at Belmont say (speaking of a recent race) "At that time, they run the wrong way of the track, like you would deal cards".
A later innovation was created by Joseph E. Widener, who took over track leadership when August Belmont II died in 1924: the Widener Chute. It was a straightaway of just under 7 furlongs (1.4 km) that cut diagonally through Belmont's training and main tracks, hitting near the quarter-pole of the main track; the course was removed in 1958.
There are presently two features of Old Belmont Park remaining today. First is the display of four stone pillars on Hempstead Turnpike, a gift from the mayor and park commissioners of Charleston, South Carolina. The pillars had stood at the entrance of the Washington Course of the South Carolina Jockey Club in Charleston, which operated from 1792 to 1882. The stone pillars are now found at the clubhouse entrance. Lesser known but more visible are the racing motif iron railings seen partially bordering the walking ring. The railings, used as decoration on the south side of the old Belmont grandstand, were salvaged during the 1963 demolition.
The original Belmont Park was not only unprecedented in its size, but also had the then-new innovation of a Long Island Rail Road extension from the Queens Village station, running along the property, tunneling under Hempstead Turnpike, then terminating on the south side of the property. The train terminal was moved to its present location north of the turnpike after the 1956 season.
Near the railroad terminal was yet another track—Belmont Park Terminal, a steeplechase course operated by United Hunts until 1927.
In addition to racing history, Belmont Park made history in another industry native to the Hempstead Plains – aviation. Some 150,000 people were drawn to the track in 1910 on October 30, at the climax of a Wright Brothers-staged international aerial tournament, which had started eight years earlier. The event came at the beginning of a period (1910, 1911, and 1912) in which racing was outlawed in New York State.
Eight years later, Belmont and aviation were reunited when the racetrack served as the northern point of the first U.S. air mail route, between the New York area and Washington, D.C.
Today, two displays in the clubhouse of the current Belmont Park commemorate the history of the racetrack: a long mural by Pierre Bellocq featuring the dominant jockeys, trainers and racing personalities of the track's history; and a series of paintings of Old Belmont Park that were featured at a nearby restaurant before the eatery closed.
The last race at the old Belmont Park was run in October 1962. The following spring, NYRA Chairman James Cox Brady announced that two separate engineering surveys found the grandstand/clubhouse was unsafe due to age-induced structural defects and needed to be rebuilt. The book Belmont Park: A Century of Champions noted the comment of NYRA President Edward T. Dickinson: "When you sighted down the stands, you could see some of the beams were twisted. They were in something of an S-shape."
The old structure was demolished in 1963. The new grandstand was built 1964–1968. (The Inner Turf Course was also added during this time.) The Belmont race meetings were moved to Aqueduct Racetrack in South Ozone Park, Queens, during that time.
The new $30.7 million Belmont Park grandstand, designed by Arthur Froehlich, was opened May 20, 1968 and is the largest in Thoroughbred racing. It has a total attendance capacity of more than 100,000, with the adjoining backyard being able to accommodate more than 10,000.
The seating portion totals nearly 33,000. (Ironically, the smaller, more cramped Churchill Downs grandstand has more seats than Belmont, 51,000.) Unlike Churchill and Pimlico, Belmont does not allow paying spectators to picnic in the infield.
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