Even though the sky looked much better Thursday morning, the forecast of more bad afternoon air in the
tri-state area led the New York Racing Association to cancel morning training and afternoon racing at Belmont Park.
“Due to poor air quality, racing today at Belmont Park has been canceled,” a NYRA text message to horsemen said just before 9 a.m. EDT.
Saturday’s Belmont Stakes remained in place as scheduled while a wait-and-see approach was taken with the smoky conditions brought on
by wildfires in Canada.
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“Safety is paramount as we navigate this unprecedented situation,” NYRA boss David O’Rourke said in a written statement. “NYRA will actively monitor all available data and weather information as we work toward the resumption of training and racing both here at Belmont Park and at Saratoga Race Course. Based on current forecast models and consultation with our external weather services, we remain optimistic that we will see an improvement in air quality on Friday.”
NYRA announced Wednesday night that training at Belmont Park and Saratoga would be canceled Thursday morning.
“I haven’t seen any impact,” trainer Todd Pletcher said about Belmont Stakes colts Forte and Tapit Trice as well as his other horses. “Everybody seems to be well. All our temperatures were normal today. I’ve seen no coughing or anything that you keep an eye out for.”
“It is what it is,” said trainer Brad Cox, who has Angel of Empire, Hit Show and Tapit Shoes entered in the Belmont. “We’re all in the same boat. We’ve just got to get through it.”
The state Department of Environmental Conservation forecast
a peak reading of 155 on Thursday for its air-quality index on Long Island.
That is regarded as unhealthy. At Saratoga it was expected to reach 140, which
is said by the DEC to be unhealthy “for sensitive groups.” On a normal day the
AQI does not go above 50.
Visibility had improved a great deal Thursday morning. A distant haze still hung over the horizon, but the air did not have the rusty brown hue that was apparent less than a day earlier.
“This is completely different that it was yesterday afternoon,” Cox said. “We probably could have trained, I suppose.”
Thursday’s canceled card included the Grade 2 Wonder Again Stakes and the listed Jersey Girl Stakes, both of which will be redrawn and run Sunday.
Standards issued by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority call for racetrack managers to “monitor the facility daily if the AQI consistently reaches 100, and there is cause for concern in the local environment.” If the AQI gets to 150, HISA said, racetracks “may limit training to jogging and/or jogging and gallops only and be prepared to take further action if conditions worsen.” If it reaches 175, HISA said to “restrict activity at the track, including, but not limited to, canceling live racing, canceling official workouts and prohibiting galloping, breezing or anything more strenuous than a jog.”
The updated National Weather Service forecast said a
hoped-for wind shift that could have blown the smoke away or at least made the
air relatively cleaner will not happen before Thursday night. It said
there would be “widespread haze” through the day. If there was any mitigating
language, it was in the description of “widespread smoke, mainly before noon
(EDT)” before it referred to “areas of smoke” Thursday night.
Taking things one day at a time, some wet weather could make
things better. The NWS predicted a 20 percent chance of showers Thursday night
with a 60 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms by mid-afternoon Friday.
For Belmont day Saturday, the forecast only went so far as
to say partly sunny with a high near 72 and a 20 percent chance of showers.
In the meantime, trainers were left to walk their horses through laps in their barns rather than gallop them on the track.
“We did the shed row this morning,” trainer Antonio Sano said about his Belmont Stakes horse Il Miracolo. “About 45 minutes.”
“These horses are going to have to do something at some point,” Cox said. “We can’t keep them on the ground. They kind of get to be too fresh, but we’ll get to it.”
“You’d like to keep them in their routine,” Pletcher said. “You’d like to keep them exercising daily. It’s just a very unusual circumstance. ... I don’t think from a fitness standpoint it has any impact. Mentally, you’d like to keep them in their routine. It could be just a one-day situation where we can train tomorrow.”
Racing is not the only sports event in the area that was affected by the bad air. The New York Yankees postponed their baseball game Wednesday
night against the Chicago White Sox and rescheduled it as part of a Thursday