New York Horse Racing Coalition: Time Has Come To Upgrade 117-Year-Old Belmont Park

Written By Grant Lucas on December 1, 2022 - Last Updated on February 6, 2023
NY Horse Racing NYRA 2023 Bill Belmont Park Renovations Saratoga

Months after an effort to revitalize Belmont Park failed, those same efforts have resurfaced.

Supporters of the New York horse racing industry have called on lawmakers to sign off on a plan to breathe new life into the 117-year-old racetrack, which has not undergone renovations since 1968.

“We need a facility that can accommodate today’s amenities for a modern arena,” Jeffrey Cannizzo, senior director of government affairs for the New York Racing Association, said during a press conference.

“We want to attract next-generation fans to horse racing.”

Coalition: Time to renovate Belmont Park

A lobbying coalition that includes the biggest names of NY horse racing intends to make a significant push in 2023 to pass legislation that would bring Belmont Park into the 21st century.

Along with the NYRA, the coalition includes:

  • New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association
  • New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc.
  • Business Council of New York State
  • Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce

Similar to the plan that ultimately failed earlier this year, the coalition aims for a bill that would authorize $450 million in bonds to renovate Belmont Park. According to the NYRA, the cost would come at no expense to state taxpayers. Rather, whatever NYRA earns in revenue from casinos at Aqueduct and Long Island will go toward paying the principal loan and interest.

Belmont upgrade would benefit NY horse racing

Details of the renovation plan boil down to tearing down Belmont and rebuilding the facility. As a result, the track will essentially become a year-round horse racing and training facility.

As members of the coalition have emphasized, this isn’t just about Belmont Park. Updating the historic track would benefit the entire NY horse racing industry. It would attract more high-profile races, create new jobs and bolster local economies as a result.

“The facility at Belmont and what we do at Saratoga (Race Course), we are also stronger together,” Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, said during the press conference. “This is a statewide ecosystem. If we’re going to attract the best horses, the best owners, the best trainers, and the best jockeys to Saratoga, we go to also do the same with Belmont.”

Similar efforts fell short earlier this year

The NYRA made a similar push in 2022. The coalition hopes for a different result this time around.

While a proposed bill gained some traction in the capital, it ultimately fell short of passage. Reportedly, support waned when another piece of legislation passed to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer moneys to fund a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills.

“I personally think there’s a need to reconfigure and redo Belmont, but I think a lot of work needs to be done with the math and the fiscal implications of what they’re asking for in that bond,” Sen. Joe Addabbo told PlayNY at the time. “I’m confident they can do it. I’m confident that NYRA has the wherewithal to explain it to us why the state won’t be at risk and why it’s necessary. I just think they have to do it, and I would think that the timing should be the 2023 budget in early January.”

Addabbo, who sponsored the Belmont-related bill, told PlayNY that Belmont and Saratoga are vital in keeping the region afloat.

“You look at Saratoga and Belmont. Those areas thrive because the Belmont Stakes or the Saratoga season,” Addabbo said at the time. “You take the Saratoga Race Course away from Saratoga and that town suffers. That town is in trouble. And listen, I love that town. It’s thriving. The restaurant owners are happy because during the season their business gets a bump. Other local business as well.

“I just want people who are adamantly opposed to understand that the spokes of the wheel go far in this industry to help a lot of people.”

Photo by AP / Eduardo Munoz
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Grant Lucas

Grant Lucas is the managing editor for PlayNY. A longtime, award-winning sports writer, Grant has covered gambling and legal sports betting since 2018, when he got his start reporting on the New Jersey and Pennsylvania industries. He now oversees PlayNY as New York expands legalized gambling to sports betting and online casino gaming.

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