Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.
It was a case of dueling editorial boards at two New York newspapers last week on the subject of rebuilding Belmont Park with a $455 million loan from the state to the New York Racing Association that was included in the budget proposed by Gov. Kathy Hochul.
The New York Post, which for many years had extensive horse racing coverage and several members of its management team that enjoyed the sport, was first out of the gate with a scathing Feb. 26 editorial. Under the headline “Time To Douse NY’s Horse-Racing ‘Burn Pit,’” the editorial board wrote that the public “supports the tracks to the tune of $200 million.” That statement is in reference to the revenue from VLTs at the Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct that was part of an agreement approved by the state legislature in 2008. The deal had several elements: renewal of the racing franchise with the New York Racing Association that runs until 2033; an agreement for purse money, capital improvements, and NYRA operating expenses to come out of VLT revenue at the casino built at Aqueduct; and transfer of ownership rights of racetrack property to the state.
Three days after the Post’s editorial, Newsday – which serves Long Island where Belmont Park is located – countered the anti-Hochul, anti-horse racing narrative with a commentary headlined, “State Is Right To Help In Belmont Renovation.”
The Newsday editorial focused on the economic impact horse racing has, saying the track and stable area “form their own mini-city, housing more than 80 training-related small businesses, employing up to 2,000 people at the busiest times of year, and featuring a health clinic, day care facility and more.”
Newsday also highlighted the benefits the state would get out of selling or developing the 115 acres of prime real estate on which Aqueduct sits. The proposal to rebuild Belmont calls for Aqueduct shutting down once construction is complete.
The editorial outlines how NYRA would pay back the loan, earmarking about $26 million from its annual capital improvements budget over 20 years. That’s from the VLT revenue all parties agreed to in 2008.
Newsday said a reimagined Belmont could bring more people to the track and improve flagging attendance, but it also said the state needs to make sure NYRA maintains its commitment to prioritize safety of horses and those who work with them.
“This version of the Belmont Stakes can be a win,” the editorial concludes, “if Hochul and the state legislature get the redevelopment across the finish line.”