Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Belmont Park Race Track is a horse-racing facility located just outside New York City, in the adjacent Nassau County suburb of Elmont. First opened May 4, 1905, it has the largest dirt racecourse of any Thoroughbred track in the world, as well as the largest grandstand. It is world-famous as the home of the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown.
The dirt racecourse — known officially as the Main Track — has a circumference of 1½ miles; immediately inside of this is the Widener Turf Course (named after the Widener family that has a long and prestigious history in American horse racing) spanning 1 5/16 miles plus 27 feet, which in turn rings an Inner Turf Course 1 3/16 miles plus 103 feet round. On the Main Track, it is 1,097 feet from the top of the stretch to the finish line, and the segment between the wire and the start of the first (clubhouse) turn covers 843 feet (this latter segment is shorter by approximately 165 feet on both of the turf courses, in order to accommodate the two chutes that exist on the Widener Turf Course, from which turf races of one mile and 1 1/16 miles are started).
Both the Belmont Park and Belmont Stakes were named after financier and sportsman August Belmont, Sr. The race was first run in 1867; it has been run at Belmont Park since 1905, with the exception of the 1963-67 editions held at Aqueduct while the stands at Belmont Park were being reconstructed. The first post parade in the United States was at the 14th Belmont, in 1880.
Secretariat's final time in his 1973 Belmont victory (2 minutes, 24 seconds) set a record not only for the distance at the track and for the race itself, but was also a world record for the 1½ miles on dirt, that still stands. Other memorable performances in Belmont Park history include the tragedy-marred victory of Foolish Pleasure over champion filly Ruffian in a 1975 match race (the latter broke down during the race and had to be euthanized), Affirmed's epic stretch duel with Alydar in the 1978 Belmont Stakes, a victory that gave Affirmed the Triple Crown; and Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew's defeat of Affirmed in the Marlboro Cup in September of that same year.
In addition to the Belmont Stakes, other major races held at Belmont include the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Woodward Stakes, the Suburban Handicap and the Memorial Day standby — the Metropolitan Handicap, also known as the "Met Mile." All of the above races are contested on dirt; notable turf (grass) races include the Bowling Green Handicap, Man o'War Stakes, and Turf Classic.
With some of the elegant aura of its sister track, Saratoga Race Course, in a suburban setting, Belmont is known as one of the most gorgeous and accommodating racecourses in the world. The "backyard" and backstretch are notable for their huge, attractive trees and landscaping, and the infield is dominated by two picturesque lakes. Along with Saratoga, Churchill Downs in Louisville, and Del Mar and Santa Anita racecourses in California, Belmont is considered one of the elite racetracks in the sport.
Belmont Park was closed for replacement of its unsafe grandstand/clubhouse structure from 1963 until May of 1968, when the present structure was opened (the Inner Turf Course was also added during this time). The Belmont race meetings were moved to Aqueduct Racetrack in South Ozone Park, Queens, during that time. The Belmont grandstand has a total attendance capacity of 100,000, the largest in racing. The seating portion totals nearly 33,000. (Ironically, the smaller but more cramped Churchill Downs grandstand has more seats than Belmont, 48,000, soon to increase to 51,000 due to a massive reconstruction project).
Racing at Belmont Park is conducted in two annual installments, or "meetings": A somewhat-misnamed "spring meeting," which usually begins on the second Wednesday in May and lasts through the fourth Sunday in July, followed by a "fall meeting" commencing on the Friday after Labor Day and ending the fourth Sunday in October. Racing is held at Saratoga during the time between these two meetings. Prior to 1977 a summer meeting was contested at Aqueduct from mid-June until Saratoga began; its abolition led to the Belmont spring meeting being lengthened to its present duration (and accounts for the now-anomalous name of the latter).
Belmont's backyard is well-known as a gathering place for racing fans to see their horses saddled before they hit the track. In addition it serves as a picnic area for the increasing numbers of fans who make Belmont Stakes Day — the Saturday that falls within the range of June 5 through June 11 — a tourist attraction. (Unlike Churchill and Pimlico, Belmont does not allow spectators to picnic in the infield.)
The racetrack, training and barn facilities are located entirely in the Elmont and Floral Park communities of Nassau County, New York, just outside the New York City limits. A Long Island Rail Road station contained within the property of the track, some of the adjoining parking fields, and the far western end of the grandstand structure straddle the Queens County line. However, Belmont Park is considered to be a Nassau County track.
Sources: New York Racing Association (NYRA), City of New York, Department of Buildings, Nassau County Department of Buildings
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