Founded in 1955 and franchised to run thoroughbred racing at New York's three major tracks (Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park, and Saratoga Race Course) through 2033, the New York Racing Association's mission is "Meeting the highest standards in thoroughbred racing and equine safety." With a lineage of nearly 150 years, NYRA tracks are the cornerstone of New York State's thoroughbred industry, which contributes more than $2 billion annually to its urban, suburban and rural economy.
NYRA tracks are proud to be accredited members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) Safety & Integrity Alliance. Leading the industry in safety and welfare initiatives, NYRA tracks have earned “best practice” ratings in virtually every primary area examined by the Alliance since 2009.
In 2015, more than 1.75 million people attended live races at NYRA tracks. Factoring in nationwide off-track wagering, the average daily betting handle on NYRA races totaled nearly $11 million. For more information, visit www.NYRA.com.
Want to know more? Check out The New York Racing Association: A Brief History
Aqueduct Racetrack opened on September 27, 1894, on property that belonged to the old Brooklyn Water Works, which was home to a conduit that brought water to New York City from the vast Hempstead Plain. Also known as the Big A, Aqueduct is the only racetrack in New York City, occupying 210 acres in South Ozone Park in the borough of Queens. Just eight miles from its sister track, Belmont Park, Aqueduct’s neighbor is John F. Kennedy International Airport, the top international passenger gateway in the United States.
Through the years, the Big A has been the scene of some of racing’s landmark events, including the only triple dead heat in stakes history when Brownie, Bossuet, and Wait a Bit hit the wire as one in the Carter Handicap on June 10, 1944. Man o’ War, Sword Dancer, Kelso, Buckpasser, Dr. Fager, Secretariat, Forego, Easy Goer and Smarty Jones built their legends at Aqueduct, and Cigar, for whom the Grade 1 Cigar Mile is named, won the first two races of his 16-race winning streak at the Big A.
From 1955-59, Aqueduct was rebuilt at a cost of $34.5 million. With a new grandstand, racing strip, barns, and accessory buildings, the new Aqueduct opened on September 14, 1959 to a crowd of 42,473 and rave reviews as the most up-to-date racing facility in North America. From 1963-68, during the reconstruction of Belmont Park, Aqueduct was the site of the Belmont Stakes.
In 1975, Aqueduct opened its winterized, one-mile inner dirt track on the former site of the inner turf course, and on October 11, 1981, it unveiled one of the largest restaurants in New York City, the multi-tiered Equestris. In 1985 and 1989, Aqueduct underwent two more rounds of improvements, including the construction of mini-theatres, the expansion of the backyard, paddock and grandstand and installation of a weather-insulated paddock.
In 2011, Aqueduct commenced its most sweeping change with the opening of the multi-level, 415,000 square foot casino, Resorts World Casino New York City, operated by Genting New York LLC. The casino, which occupies the former grandstand, commenced operations in October, 2011, and expanded to a second floor in December, with more than 5,000 VLTs and ETGs available.
For more than a century, Belmont Park has been the stage for many of racing’s greatest legends, showcasing legends such as Man o’ War, Curlin, Beldame, Rachel Alexandra, Seabiscuit, Cigar and many others. It began in 1902, when a syndicate headed by August Belmont II and former Secretary of the Navy William C. Whitney sought land on Long Island to build the most elaborate track in America, one modeled after the great race courses of Europe. They found what they were looking for on the border of Queens County and Nassau County. Originally known as Foster’s Meadow, the 650 acres of land included a turreted Tudor-Gothic mansion owned by William de Forest Manice, which was to serve as the track’s Turf and Field Club until 1956.
The grand opening of Belmont Park on May 4, 1905, attracted more than 40,000 fans who witnessed August Belmont II’s Blandy, at 7-1, hold off 100-1 shot Oliver Cromwell in the $1,500 Belmont Inaugural. Later, James R. Keane’s Sysonby, who would be ranked No. 30 on the Blood-Horse Magazine’s top 100 horses of the 20th century, made his 3-year-old debut against the super filly Beldame, another of Belmont’s charges. In the stretch, Sysonby got unexpected competition from 20-1 Race King, and the two hit the wire in a dead heat.
Closed in 1963 due to structural defects, Belmont Park was rebuilt and re-opened in 1968. Since 2012, numerous improvements have been made to enhance the guest experience while preserving its historic architectural elements, including the installation of hundreds of HD televisions across the property and new video display boards in the Paddock, installing Trakus technology for horseplayers and enhancing and expanding the Belmont Cafe and the Top of the Stretch picnic area. In 2015, $5 million in improvements were made to the transit rotunda on the west end of the Grandstand, as well as new rail station platforms, which increased the Belmont Station train capacity to 10 cars and improved egress from the track on major racing days.
The Belmont Stakes, the final and most demanding leg of the Triple Crown, is named after August Belmont who had been a leading banker and racing man of the 19th century. He was also the first President of the Jockey Club in 1867. In 1869, August Belmont took first and second money with his own Fenian and Glenelg.
The Belmont Stakes was run at Jerome Park from 1867 to 1889; at Morris Park from 1890 to 1904; at Aqueduct from 1963 to 1967. Not run in 1911 and 1912. Run at a mile and five furlongs from 1867 to 1873; a mile and a quarter in 1890, 1891, 1892, 1895, 1904 and 1905; a mile and a furlong in 1893 and 1894; a mile and three furlongs from 1896 to 1903 and from 1906 to 1925. No time taken in 1907 and 1908. Run as a Handicap Stakes in 1895 and in 1913. The value for the 1987, 1988 and 1992 winners includes the $1,000,000 Triple Crown point system bonus.
Secretariat’s 31-length victory in the 1973 Belmont Stakes established the world record for a mile and a half on dirt at 2:24 and will forever be engraved into our memories. With his win in the Belmont, he became the ninth horse to capture the Triple Crown. Seattle Slew took the title in 1977 with Jean Cruguet. Five years later Affirmed trained by Laz Barrera, swept the Triple Crown races. His duel with Alydar in the Belmont Stakes earned him the titled of the 11th Triple Crown Winner. This was the start of the 37-year Triple Crown drought.
The American racing world would wait anxiously each year for the start of the Triple Crown series in hopes that a savior of the dry spell would emerge. Since 1978 many horses have won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness (Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998, Charismatic in 1999, War Emblem in 2002, Funny Cide in 2003, Smarty Jones in 2004, I’ll have Another in 2012 and California Chrome in 2014) and were denied racing immortality in the Belmont Stakes.
Then in 2015, along came American Pharoah. Owned by Zayat Stables, LLC ridden by Victor Espinoza and trained by Bob Baffert. In front of a capped crowd of 90,000, the field of eight headlined by American Pharoah, loaded into the gate. Everyone from the fans to staff to the Zayat family held their breath as the gates flew open. American Pharoah broke and went right to the lead at the first turn. Coming into the home stretch the crowd increasingly grew louder and louder cheering on the soon to be 12th Triple Crown Champion. Victor Espinoza opened him up as he made his “run for glory.” He glided across the finish line at a 5 ½ length victory and with a time of 2:26.65. It was the fastest Belmont stakes since Point Given in 2001 and the second fastest to Triple Crown winner, Secretariat. The crowed erupted in euphoria, the 37-year wait was finally over. Tears, laughing, and cheering amongst a most grateful Belmont crowd will be remembered for years to come.
The record-setting 147th meet at historic Saratoga Race Course saw the continued growth of two marquee days, Whitney Day and Travers Day, the latter of which marked by the historic appearance of American Pharoah, only the fourth Triple Crown winner ever to compete in the “Mid-Summer Derby.” While the momentum from American Pharoah’s victory in the Belmont Stakes drove attendance and handle at the Spa, perhaps one of the best moments in racing came the day before his upset by Keen Ice in the Travers, when 15,000 fans turned out in the morning just to watch him jog around the track.
With paid attendance at more than one million in 2015, the annual summer meet at Saratoga Race Course generates $237 million in economic activity and nearly 2,600 jobs across the greater Capital Region, according to the findings of a study released this year by the Saratoga County Industrial Development Agency (IDA). The update also shows a surge in job growth of more than 30 percent attributed to the operation of Saratoga Race Course and its participants, including owners, trainers and jockeys, as well as tourism activity generated by the track.
Already famous for its mineral baths, Saratoga held its first thoroughbred meet just a month after the Battle of Gettysburg. Staged by gambler, casino owner, ex-boxing champion and future Congressman John “Old Smoke” Morrissey and beginning on August 3, 1863, the four-day meet drew thousands of locals and tourists who saw Lizzie W. defeat Captain Moore in the best-of-three series of races.
Emboldened by the success of that first meet, Morrissey promptly enlisted his friends John R. Hunter, William Travers and Leonard Jerome to form the Saratoga Association. Its first responsibility was the construction of a new, permanent grandstand on the current site of Saratoga Race Course. Across the street, the “old course” became the barn area known as Horse Haven, with the vestiges of the original track still encircling the stables.
While the summer meet routinely drew weekday crowds of more than 10,000 during the 1950’s, there was concern that the Greater New York Association, formed in 1955, would run a concurrent meet downstate. In April, 1957, Gov. Averill Harriman signed into law a bill that prohibited a simultaneous downstate meet and also guaranteed a minimum of 24 days of racing at the Spa. In 1963, the construction of the Northway improved automotive access to the track from the New York State Thruway in Albany.
Named one of the world’s great sporting venues by Sports Illustrated, the past comes alive every summer in the historic grandstand as guests experience not only the best in thoroughbred racing, but the unmatched ambience and charm of Saratoga Springs.
Although some may quibble with the order, it’s no wonder that Saratoga’s motto is “Health, history, and horses.”
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