'We Remain Optimistic': Air Quality May Thwart Belmont Stakes

ELMONT, NY — The Belmont Stakes could be postponed this year, due to the poor air quality from Canada wildfires.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, along with the Gaming Commission, announced enhanced measures on Thursday to protect horses at New York State racetracks from smoke, haze and pollution, effective immediately.

“As New Yorkers continue to experience unhealthy air quality as a result of Canadian wildfires, we must all work to ensure that animals – including these peak-performance equine athletes – are protected,” Governor Hochul said. “The measures being implemented at tracks across New York State are effective steps to keep all those who participate in the sport safe now and into the future.”

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If the air quality index (AQI) exceeds 200 at a specific facility, no racing or training may be conducted at that track.

If the AQI is between 150 and 200 at a specific facility, only those horses that pass an additional pre-race respiratory veterinary examination will be permitted to race.

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The measures are tied to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s AQI, which includes a range of index values.

Patrick McKenna, vice president of communications for New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) told Patch in a statement that they are monitoring the air quality for the 155th Belmont Stakes, scheduled to take place on Saturday.

“This guidance was arrived at in consultation with the New York Racing Association and is grounded in our shared efforts to provide the safest possible environment for training and racing thoroughbred horses,” said McKenna. “NYRA will continue to closely monitor air quality in and around Belmont Park in the coming days, and we remain optimistic that conditions will allow for the resumption of training and racing on Friday in advance of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.”

NYRA canceled its live racing Thursday at Belmont Park due to poor air quality conditions forecast to impact Long Island and all of New York State throughout the day on Thursday, its website said.

In addition, morning training was canceled at both Saratoga Race Course and Belmont Park. Thursday’s twilight racing program, which featured a 3:05 p.m. first post to kick off the 2023 Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, was also cancelled.

All Thoroughbred and Standardbred racetracks in the state are directed to implement additional protocols based upon the track’s AQI, which considers the amount of particle pollution, ground-level ozone, and toxic gases (carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide) in the air.

The AQI varies from location to location and changes throughout the day.

As with humans, particulates in the atmosphere can build up in horse respiratory systems, causing serious health problems, including eye and respiratory tract irritation, a release said.

Poor air quality can also irritate pre-existing conditions, including recurrent airway obstruction (heaves), as well as exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. High concentrations of smoke and particulates can cause persistent cough, nasal discharge, wheezing, an increased effort to breathe and altering of the immune system.

In addition, all people interacting with horses are urged to review veterinary guidelines for smoke and extreme weather.

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