Ongoing wildfires in Canada have blanketed the northeast of the U.S. with unhealthy smoke that has prompted a number of professional sports teams to postpone games over air quality concerns.
Now, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is calling on officials to postpone horse racing in New York ahead of the Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown, until its deemed safe.
The New York Racing Association (NYRA) announced that all live racing at Belmont Park on Thursday was canceled “due to poor air quality conditions,” which followed an earlier announcement that all practices that day had also been canceled.
“Safety is paramount as we navigate this unprecedented situation,” NYRA CEO and President David O’Rourke said in a statement.
“NYRA will actively monitor all available data and weather information as we work toward the resumption of training and racing both here at Belmont Park and at Saratoga Race Course. Based on current forecast models and consultation with our external weather services, we remain optimistic that we will see an improvement in air quality on Friday.”
PETA issued a statement Wednesday calling for the cancelation of Thursday’s events, but PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo also asked that the NYRA consider potentially canceling all horse racing throughout the weekend if the air quality conditions persist.
“If the air in New York is unsafe for humans, it will be worse for horses running at top speed,” Guillermo said in a statement. “The safety of the horses must come before profit and tradition, even if it means postponing the Belmont Stakes.”
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Thursday that the Belmont Stakes could be canceled if the air quality index on Saturday exceeds 200, the Environmental Protection Agency benchmark for air that is very unhealthy for everyone.
“People come from all over the country,” Hochul said. “It’s huge for the local economy. And so we … hopefully can get this going, but there’s no assurance of what the weather’s going to be. So it’s going to be a last-minute decision, I’m sure.”
If the air quality is measured at 150 to 200, only horses that pass an additional pre-race veterinary examination will be permitted to race, Hochul added.
Guillermo said Thursday that allowing the horses to race in Long Island this weekend “is foolhardy and dangerous.”
“People are being advised to stay in and all outdoor activities have been canceled, yet the governor wants Thoroughbreds to run at breakneck speed in this air,” Guillermo’s statement read.
“We urge the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority and the New York Racing Association to cancel the races until conditions are safe for the animals they claim to care about.”
According to the Air Quality Index (AQI) Forecast for New York State on Friday morning, air quality health advisories were still in effect for Long Island, with an AQI of 120.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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