News and STORIES

Aqueduct's Training And Stabling Will Move To Belmont

Author: Clint Goodman
Published: Friday December 13, 2019
On Thursday, the New York Racing Association announced that all stabling and training of racehorses will move from Aqueduct Racetrack to Belmont Park. The shift will take place on Jan. 1. 

Glen Kozak, NYRA's vice president of facilities and racing surfaces, spoke about the change.

"As this change takes effect, we appreciate the patience and understanding of horsemen who utilized Aqueduct as a primary base of operations," said Kozak. "The consolidation of NYRA's winter training activities to Belmont Park follows years of barn renovations and new construction, resulting in a facility that now features 2,500 stalls and can easily accommodate the relatively small number of horses who previously resided at Aqueduct, as well as the 1,200-1,300 horses generally stabled at Belmont during the winter months."

Belmont Park

Belmont has a one-mile training track that was fully renovated and widened in 2016. It also has two covered jogging barns, each with a synthetic surface, as well as a quarter-mile pony track. According to the NYRA, Belmont provides various training options for different weather conditions. 

"Historically, the vast majority of Aqueduct starters have been stabled at Belmont and ship the short distance (nine miles) to Aqueduct to compete on race day," Kozak said. "That is why NYRA places a great deal of focus on maintaining the Belmont training track in a way that is consistent with the surface at Aqueduct."

The NYRA will take up the initial costs that will come along with the re-stabling of horses, and it will keep providing race-day transportation between the two tracks.

Before the decision was made, the NYRA said it consulted with the New York Thoroughbreds, and it conducted a full analysis of the main track at Aqueduct. This was done to make sure the surface quality and consistency would not be altered or compromised. Both the NYRA and the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory conducted the analysis. 

Implications and Benefits

According to NYTHA president Joe Applebaum, his organization is monitoring the effect on horsemen. 

"NYTHA is observing the situation keenly, especially as a safety and welfare issue. There will be a number of horsemen dislocated in the middle of winter, which is not ideal, but it is the reality. NYRA seems to be taking all the right steps to accommodate those horsemen, and we will hold them to it," Appelbaum said. "We have horses at Belmont all the time. It's nothing new. The horsemen will make the best of the situation. New York horsemen are used to operating under difficult circumstances, and I'm sure they will overcome any issues here as well."

Appelbaum also said that the move could have financial implications on some horsemen. 

"For some of the smaller guys moving from Aqueduct, there's some added costs for shipping and calculating wage rates, so there will be some additional costs," he said.

Because of NYRA's decision, a group of horsemen created a petition due to concerns about equine safety. 

The executive director of the RSTL, Mick Peterson, was happy with the decision.

"The Aqueduct main track and the Belmont training track are identical in design and well suited to winter use," Peterson said. "The design helps facilitate the maintenance required to address weather challenges. As with any surface, the key is consistency, and the all-weather availability of the Belmont training track is a huge plus."

Peterson believes there are significant safety benefits for moving winter training to NYRA's Elmont, N.Y., facility. 

"In particular, if NYRA encounters changing winter weather conditions, then decisions related to the maintenance of the track can be made based on what is needed to prepare the track for racing," Peterson said. "This will allow, for example, a track that is harrowed overnight to avoid freezing to be floated in the morning as it warms up to keep rain out of the cushion."

The NYRA shares its internal data and daily measurements with independent testing and engineering firms. The track maintenance work is documented, logged, and shared in real time.