The 155th running of the annual US flat racing Triple Crown event was put in jeopardy Thursday after all activities at the facility were halted due to poor air quality in New York.
Air quality conditions made major improvements on Friday, enough to allow Belmont to reopen after consultation with the New York State Gaming Commission and New York Racing Association (NYRA).
Belmont Park also reopened for training on Friday morning, allowing the nine-horse field for Saturday’s $1.5 million Belmont Stakes a workout on the eve of the 1 1/2-mile showdown for three-year-olds.
The NYRA will continue to monitor air quality conditions and forecasts to ensure the environment remains safe for spectators, horses and riders.
New York governor Kathy Hochul warned Thursday that the Belmont Stakes would be canceled if air quality is too unhealthy.
“There’s no assurance of what the weather is going to be, so it’s going to be a last-minute decision, I’m sure,” Hochul said.
Hochul said “enhanced measures” have been instituted to protect horses, riders and spectators.
The Belmont Stakes would be canceled if the air quality index at Belmont Park is beyond 200, considered very unhealthy. If the index ranks between 150-200, horses would need to pass a pre-race veterinarian exam to compete.
Horse safety has been under scrutiny during this year’s Triple Crown run after the Kentucky Derby was clouded by a spate of deaths at Churchill Downs that included two on Derby day and eight within three weeks.
At last month’s Preakness in Baltimore, Havnameltdown suffered a catastrophic front left leg injury during the sixth race of the day and had to be euthanized on the track at Pimlico Race Course.
Kentucky Derby winner Mage will not compete in the Belmont Stakes but Preakness winner National Treasure will run with two-time Belmont Stakes-winning jockey John Velazquez aboard.
Also seeking a third Belmont Stakes victory is jockey Irad Ortiz, who rode 2022 Belmont champion Mo Donegal and mounts Forte, who was fancied by oddsmakers at the Kentucky Derby before being a late scratch due to a foot injury that also kept the horse from the Preakness.
Forte is the 5-2 favorite in this year’s Belmont field followed by Tapit Trice (3-1), Angel of Empire (7-2) and National Treasure (5-1).
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