ELMONT — Triple Crown winners have run at Saratoga Race Course, most recently American Pharoah in 2015.
As a measure of the fervor Saratoga fans have for Thoroughbred racing, an estimated crowd of 15,000 turned out for what was just a training gallop by American Pharoah the morning before he raced in the Travers that year.
Two minutes of mundane jogging. Fifteen thousand.
Imagine if a horse came to Saratoga with a chance to actually win the Triple Crown there.
In one of the scenarios that the New York Racing Association is considering as it works through a massive project to rebuild Belmont Park, there’s a chance that the 2025 Belmont Stakes could be held at Saratoga. Whether the same horse wins both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness that year to set up a Triple Crown bid in the Belmont remains to be seen, but if it does, that bid could happen at Saratoga.
Even without a Triple Crown on the line, holding the Belmont at the Spa for the first time in what would be the 157th running of one of the sport’s most storied races would be a thrill that fans have never experienced.
“There are many things yet to be determined, but the goal would be to hold the 2026 Belmont Stakes in the new Belmont Park,” said Pat McKenna, NYRA vice president of communications. “That leaves the question mark around 2025. Should it be required to move the Belmont Stakes away from Belmont Park, there is precedent for holding the event at Aqueduct Racetrack in the ’60s.
“We also have another option, at Saratoga Race Course, which obviously is intriguing.”
The Belmont Stakes was first held in 1867 at Jerome Park, then at Morris Park, both in Westchester County, before the old Belmont Park was built in 1905. The third jewel of the Triple Crown was moved to Aqueduct from 1963-67 while the current Belmont Park was being built.
With a $455 million loan from New York state that was approved by both houses of the state Legislature on May 2, NYRA will tear down the 1.25 million square foot Belmont Park clubhouse and grandstand and build a smaller facility totaling 275,000 square feet, while transforming the 45-acre infield into a park-like venue accessible to pedestrians.
Work is already well in progress renovating the racetrack itself, which will include a synthetic inner course that eventually will allow Belmont to race in the winter. That will open the door to tear down Aqueduct for some other use of that 111 acres of land, which is owned by the state.
The current work can be accommodated by running the Belmont fall meet at Aqueduct without any interruptions in year-round racing.
But when the project reaches the point where the Belmont grandstand comes down and the new one is built, that work schedule could overlap the traditional June date for the Belmont Stakes, forcing the race to be run at one of NYRA’s other two tracks.
McKenna said a specific timeline for Belmont demolition and construction will come into better focus in the next 2-3 months.
NYRA is in the midst of master-planning and design and will present that to the state Franchise Oversight Board in July or August for review.
If the 2025 Belmont Stakes can’t be held at Belmont Park, there are pros and cons to both Saratoga and Aqueduct as alternate sites. The most readily apparent pro on the Saratoga side is that the Spa is one of the finest sports venues in the country when it comes to the live fan experience.
“It would be incredibly exciting for the sport of horse racing, for all of upstate New York and especially for the Saratoga Springs community, to be able to hold a Belmont Stakes at Saratoga Race Course,” McKenna said. “It would be a unique event in the history of the sport, and it is an option that is clearly intriguing for all of those reasons.”
The most readily apparent pro on the Aqueduct side is the travel and cost element.
Horsemen and horses move easily between Belmont in Nassau County and Aqueduct in Queens, and shifting the entire operation to Saratoga is a considerable undertaking that the circuit is accustomed to for the Saratoga meet, but not for one short, isolated event.
“We’re talking hypothetically, but the logistical challenges would be relatively significant in terms of opening up the venue in June for what would likely be a weekend of racing,” McKenna said.
Other complications for any move include satisfying other parties of interest.
“Our television partners at FOX would obviously have something to say about a Belmont Stakes held away from Belmont Park,” McKenna said. “All of these things would need to be discussed and certainly need agreement from a pretty diverse set of constituencies.
“But the concept of a Belmont Stakes, not unlike the concept of a Breeders’ Cup, in Saratoga is exciting.”
Contact Mike MacAdam at [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.