The new head of the group representing owners and trainers at New York Racing Association tracks says the plan to relocate the NHL’s New York Islanders to Belmont Park could boost interest in Thoroughbred horse racing, but “many moving parts” are still lingering about the future of the track property.
Joseph Appelbaum, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said one of the significant parts of the plan, unveiled this week for a 43-acre, mostly unused lot at Belmont, is the accompanying plan to upgrade the track’s Long Island Railroad stop.
“Providing public transportation to a racing venue is wonderful,” Appelbaum said.
The Islanders team was tapped by the state Dec. 20 as part of a partnership that will build an 18,000-seat hockey and entertainment arena adjacent to the track’s grandstand on land owned by the state of New York. The project, valued at $1 billion, will include a hotel along with retail, dining, and entertainment space.
But, there are still a number of lingering questions about the future of Belmont, including whether there will be a serious push to close nearby Aqueduct Racetrack and make Belmont into a year-round racing facility. Adding to the confusion is a recent push by the horsemen’s group at Yonkers harness track in Westchester County to close the facility there and move its racing operations to Belmont.
If there is such a plan in the works, Appelbaum said, no one has discussed it with NYTHA. “There’s a lot of moving parts on the Belmont property right now, and that would be even more moving parts,” he said of the Yonkers speculation. “I don’t really have much to say about that.”
It will be at least a couple of years before the newly announced Belmont arena and related development will be completed. One of the plans calls for what would be costly upgrades to the Long Island Rail Road to improve the ability of a station near Belmont Park to be able to handle potentially thousands of hockey fans.
For the racetrack, those improvements could at least provide an incentive for some fans to attend live racing. Newsday, a Long Island newspaper, reported this week that there are a number of major logistical issues tied to plans to improve railroad service to Belmont, which now only sees two trains to and from the station during racing season and is connected to the main line of the rail system by way of a single track. How the system will handle a rush-hour crowd of hockey fans streaming to the complex has not been made completely clear, the paper reported.
“It’s very exciting for the property,” Appelbaum said of Islanders’ plan. “We’ll see what the effects are on racing. We hope positive. It will be good to have activity and life there … Our fingers are crossed.”