Hochul gives OK for upgrade to Belmont Park


The New York Racing Association has corralled Gov. Kathy Hochul’s support for the Belmont Park redevelopment plan — which would completely modernize the 118-year-old horse racing facility in Elmont.

The NYRA has proposed demolishing Belmont Park, on Hempstead Turnpike, rebuilding it from scratch and transforming the racetrack into a winterized facility complete with a new clubhouse and grandstand — all at no cost to taxpayers. The NYRA plans to borrow the money from the state and pay it off over the span of 30 years through state-backed bonds.

Hochul recently unveiled her $227 billion budget proposal for fiscal year 2024, in which she pledged support for the racetrack’s $455 million multi-year renovation project. According to David O’Rourke, NYRA president, the governor’s support demonstrates her understanding of the important role horse racing plays in New York’s economy.

“Belmont Park stands at the center of the statewide racing ecosystem, and the project to re-imagine the facility will create jobs, drive tourism to the region and secure the future of thoroughbred racing across the state,” O’Rourke said in a statement. “The time is right to build a new Belmont Park for the benefit of New York State and we look forward to working with our legislative partners to ensure the governor’s proposal is enacted.”

Jack Sterne, spokesman for We Are NY Horse Racing, has been advocating for the modernization project for some time, alongside other horse racing enthusiasts, business leaders and thousands of laborers who work within the horseracing industry.

He echoed O’Rourke’s belief regarding horse racing’s significant influence on New York’s economy and said the sport itself has created 19,000 state jobs and has had a $3 billion impact on the economy.

Sterne said the project would create about $1 billion of economic activity during the rebuilding process and roughly 3,700 construction jobs. After the facility is built, it would fetch $155 million of economic activity annually and sustain 740 new full-time jobs, Sterne said.

“We know that 68 percent of New York voters support this project and on Long Island, it’s 75 percent of voters who support this project,” Sterne said. “So just like the governor listened to her constituents and included this in her budget, a lot of legislators similarly understand the importance of the project.”

“Hopefully, at the end of March, we’ll be in the winner’s circle,” Sterne added.

Patrick McKenna, vice president of communications for NYRA, said in the next 60 days, Hochul’s proposed state budget will be subject to negotiation and legislative hearings by members of the state Senate and Assembly. By law, the budget deadline is April 1.

“That’s why it’s so important for us to continue advocating, educating, and informing both the public and lawmakers about the importance of this project to Long Island and the entire state,” McKenna said.

Home of the Belmont Stakes — the final jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown — Belmont Park has been at the center of some of the most exciting moments in sports history, including Secretariat’s riveting Triple Crown in 1973. This year marks the 50th anniversary of that triumphant victory.

A revamped Belmont Park could potentially make its own history with the possibility of luring the Breeders’ Cup back to New York, officials said. Known to fans as the Super Bowl of horse racing, the last time the event was hosted at Belmont Park was in 2005 and has not returned due to the venue’s aging infrastructure.

McKenna said honoring the traditions, history and iconic moments of Belmont’s horse racing past is NYRA’s top priority when reimagining the renowned location.

“For fans of Belmont who have enjoyed this beautiful property for decades, NYRA will absolutely take steps to honor that history, while also recognizing that fans in 2023 have come to expect a different level of hospitality and amenities,” McKenna said.