On Wednesday, December 6th, New York Governor Kathy Hochul made the official announcement that the Belmont Stakes will be held at Saratoga Race Course in 2024. Belmont Park, home of the Belmont Stakes, is undergoing a $455 million renovation project that will prevent the final jewel of the Triple Crown from being held at the track in 2024, and potentially in 2025 as well.
This is not the first time that the Belmont Stakes has changed location. Historically, the race has also been run at Jerome Park, Morris Park, and Aqueduct Racetrack.
The Location of the Belmont Stakes
The Belmont Stakes at Jerome Park (1867 - 1889):
In 1866, New York welcomed the opening of Jerome Park Racetrack on what was formerly the Bathgate estate. The racetrack had been built by American financers Leonard W. Jerome, known as the “King of Wall Street”, and August Belmont Sr., a diplomat and politician. The launch of the track marked the return of horse racing in New York City after a hiatus caused by the Civil War.
Jerome Park was a sort of paradise, especially for the wealthy. “The appointments were lavish, with a large dining room, a magnificent ballroom, and clubhouse accommodations comparable to a luxury hotel,” NYC Parks described.
The Belmont Stakes was inaugurated in 1867, one year after the opening of the new track. The first Belmont Stakes was won by a filly named Ruthless at a distance of 1 ⅝ miles. The distance of the race was extended to 1 ½ miles in 1874. The Belmont Stakes was run at Jerome Park through 1889, during which the likes of Harry Bassett, Spendthrift, and Hanover won the race.
The city of New York condemned Jerome Park in 1890 to build the Jerome Park Reservoir, so the Belmont Stakes was moved to nearby Morris Park. August Belmont Sr., the namesake of the Belmont Stakes, died in November of that year and Jerome Park officially closed on October 4, 1894.
The Belmont Stakes at Morris Park (1890 - 1904):
With the planned closure of Jerome Park, American businessman John Albert Morris opened Morris Park Racecourse with the help of Leonard W. Jerome, who would serve as the track’s president. Morris was a longtime racehorse owner in both Europe and the United States and his father owned inaugural Belmont Stakes winner Ruthless.
At the time of its opening in 1889, Morris Park was called “the finest race track in the world”. The track had a “grandstand capacity of 15,000, a 1½ -mile track, its Eclipse track that ran diagonally across the main track on a ¾-mile straightaway, and 1,000-stall stables. Morris Park was accessible by horse and buggy and a new railroad line spur that brought fans to the track from the New York City boroughs and beyond.”
The grand, new Morris Park Racecourse hosted the Belmont Stakes from 1890 through 1904, during which the likes of Henry of Navarre and Hastings (grandsire of Man o’ War) won the prestigious race. The race was run at three different distances during its time at Morris Park: 1 ¼ miles (1890 - 1892, 1895, 1904), 1 ⅛ miles (1893 - 1894), and 1 ⅜ miles (1896 - 1903).
By the early 1900s, August Belmont Jr., the wealthy financier and Thoroughbred owner and breeder son of August Belmont Sr., had teamed up with William Collins Whitney and other investors to build a new racetrack in New York: Belmont Park. With the new track’s opening imminent, attendance began to decline at Morris Park. Morris Park held its final day of racing on October 15, 1904.
The Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park (1905 - 1962):
The opening of Belmont Park marked a new day in horse racing. 40,000 people converged at Belmont Park on May 4, 1905, the first day of racing at the new track. Belmont Park was a monument by and for the American aristocracy.
The first Belmont Stakes held at Belmont Park was won by a filly named Tanya, a fitting call-back to Ruthless, the inaugural winner of the race when it was held at Jerome Park. Except for 1911 and 1912, when no racing was held at Belmont Park due to the anti-gambling Hart-Agnew Law, Belmont Park held the Belmont Stakes from 1905 - 1962.
The tally of notable horses that won the race during this time is far too long to list here, but it includes the first eight Triple Crown winners and many other famed racehorses. The race was held at three different distances during this era at Belmont Park: 1 ¼ miles (1905), 1 ⅜ miles (1906 - 1925), and 1 ½ miles (1926 -1962).
In the early 1960s, two engineering surveys found that the grandstand at Belmont Park was unsafe due to structural defects and would need to be rebuilt. Belmont Park held their final day of racing in October 1962 and closed for four years to rebuild.
With the closure of Belmont Park, the Belmont Stakes would need to find a temporary new home. Nearby New York racetrack Aqueduct stepped in.
The Belmont Stakes at Aqueduct (1963 - 1967):
Aqueduct Racetrack first opened its doors on September 27, 1894. In the mid to late 1950s, prior to the reconstruction of Belmont Park, Aqueduct had undergone $33 million in renovations and was the perfect fit to host the famed Belmont Stakes.
Aqueduct hosted the Belmont Stakes from 1963 to 1967 at a distance of 1 ½ miles. During this time, the likes of Chateaguay and Damascus won the race. Aqueduct’s time with the final jewel of the Triple Crown was short-lived, but historic nonetheless.
The Belmont Stakes Returns to Belmont Park (1968 - 2023):
The Belmont Stakes made its return to Belmont Park in 1968. The track’s new grandstand had a capacity of 100,000, which made it the largest in Thoroughbred racing. The inner turf course had also been added during the construction in the 1960s.
The Belmont Stakes settled nicely back into Belmont Park, with three of the next five Triple Crown winners making their mark in history in the 1970s, shortly after the track’s reopening. The most recent two Triple Crown winners came decades later in the 2010s. One more filly, Rags to Riches, won the Belmont Stakes during this period.
The race continued to be run at 1 ½ miles aside from 2020, when the race was shortened to 1 ⅛ miles with the Belmont Stakes run first instead of last of the three Triple Crown races due to schedule changes caused by COVID-19.
In December 2022, the New York Racing Association announced its intentions to upgrade the facilities at Belmont Park. A reconstruction of the grandstand was included in these plans. On December 6, 2023, New York Governor Kathy Hochul officially announced that Saratoga Race Course would host the 2024 Belmont Stakes to allow for “uninterrupted construction of the new and re-imagined Belmont Park”.
The Belmont Stakes at Saratoga Race Course (2024 - ?):
Alongside the announcement of the Belmont Stakes moving to Saratoga Race Course for 2024, it was declared that the New York Racing Association would be increasing the race’s purse from $1.5 million to $2 million. Due to Saratoga’s configuration, the race’s distance would be decreased to 1 ¼ miles for the first time since 1904.
The Belmont Stakes will return to Belmont Park upon the completion of the new construction.
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