Breeders' Cup at Belmont? No Timetable, But Edging Closer to Reality

Belmont ParkSarah Andrew


The topic of Belmont Park hosting the Breeders' Cup resurfaced again Monday with the public release of a letter from Breeders' Cup executives to the New York Racing Association (NYRA) to “reaffirm the strong desire” to return the event to Belmont “as soon as the potential infrastructure projects we discussed are complete.”

That undated letter, which was attached as part of a Nov. 7 pro-Breeders' Cup press release issued by the “We Are NY Horse Racing” coalition of small businesses, labor unions, non-profits, and trade associations, did not include any specifics about the projects that were referenced, nor did it state a ballpark timetable for when Belmont might be re-introduced into the rotation of host tracks.

But as NYRA continues to chip away at a decades-long overhaul that could one day consolidate all downstate racing at one downsized and modernized facility, a return of the Breeders' Cup to Belmont comes into a less-hazy theoretical focus.

Belmont last hosted the Breeders' Cup in 2005, two years prior to the advent of the event's expansion to two days. It had previously hosted the event in 1990, 1995 and 2001.

The return of the Breeders' Cup to Belmont has been an open question ever since.

The worthiness of New York as a host city and Belmont's lofty, no-brainer status among North American racetracks have never been the issues.

Outdated infrastructure has been the chief logistical holdup, and the process has moved slowly over the years because of the enormous scope of the work and the fact that NYRA's projects are subject to state approvals.

“With the arrival of UBS Arena, the creation of new and modernized racing facilities at Belmont Park is a transformational project that would establish one of the finest sports and entertainment destinations anywhere in the country…” NYRA's vice president of communications, Patrick McKenna, wrote in an email to TDN Monday.

“For Thoroughbred racing, a re-imagined Belmont would be the most consequential and significant new developments the sport has seen in recent history. It would result in a facility capable of hosting year-round racing and pave the way for the return of the Breeders' Cup World Championships to New York, among other advantages,” McKenna wrote.

“NYRA envisions a new grandstand that will honor the history and traditions of this historic property while offering fans the kind of modern amenities and differentiated experiences they have come to expect from stadiums and venues throughout New York…” McKenna wrote.

“The project enjoys broad and enthusiastic support throughout the region, and NYRA hopes to gain the relevant authorization through the 2023 [New York State] budget. Timelines for construction and relevant next steps would be arrived at only when the legislative process is complete,” McKenna wrote.

The first phase of that work is already underway. The recent fall meet at Belmont got relocated to Aqueduct Racetrack because NYRA is in the late stages of constructing vehicular and pedestrian tunnels underneath the 55-acre infield, which has been largely inaccessible and underutilized throughout the life of the track. In addition to providing access to fans, the tunnels will allow for NYRA to completely reconstruct the main dirt track and two turf courses, and possibly add a synthetic racing surface.

“New York is the ultimate global stage, and the new Belmont Park will be an ideal location to regularly host the Breeders' Cup,” NYRA president and chief executive officer Dave O'Rourke stated as part of the “We Are NY Horse Racing” release.

Five years ago, in 2017, TDN asked O'Rourke's predecessor, Chris Kay, about the timetable for Belmont once again hosting the Breeders' Cup. At that time, NYRA's president and chief executive officer explained the situation like this:

“When I met with the board of the Breeders' Cup in 2013, roughly a month after I took the job, they said, 'We want to bring the Breeders' Cup back to New York. When are you going to have [Belmont] renovated?'” Kay said. “That's because our building doesn't have any heat. The first week of November can be very cold. It's essentially concrete, and concrete holds the cold. [The current version of Belmont] was built in 1968, and it has the amenities of a 1968 facility.”

In 2018, Craig Fravel, then the Breeders' Cup president and chief executive officer, told TDN that, “both of us, the Breeders' Cup and NYRA, believe that there is a lot that needs to be done to do it right [and] what needed to be done was extensive.” Fravel also noted that Belmont's Park parking lots are not lit, and with the GI Classic culminating the Saturday card as late in the afternoon as daylight allows, there would be the problem of sending tens of thousands of people into darkened lots.

TDN's Bill Finley also pointed out in that same story that, “Another factor that makes Belmont a less-than-perfect site for the Breeders' Cup is that it is held the same weekend as the New York Marathon, which makes finding hotel rooms difficult.”

The letter to NYRA was signed by Drew Fleming, the president and chief executive officer of the Breeders' Cup, and Barbara Banke, who chairs the Breeders' Cup board.

It closed with the optimistic tag line, “To paraphrase one of our favorite movies, 'if you build it, we will come.'”

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