Belmont Park is a major thoroughbred horse-racing facility located just outside New York City, in the adjacent Nassau County suburb of Elmont, Long Island. Its mile-and-a-half (2.4 km) main track is the largest dirt course in Thoroughbred racing. It first opened May 4, 1905.
It is world-famous as the home of the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown.
Belmont is known as The Championship Track because most every major champion in racing history since the early 20th century has competed on the racecourse -- including each of the 11 Triple Crown winners.
In addition to its importance to racing, "Beautiful Belmont Park" is often called one of the best-landscaped venues in American sports -- especially because of the stately backyard park behind the grandstand, which includes the paddock in which the horses are saddled before each race. The backyard and backstretch are notable for their huge, attractive trees and landscaping, and the infield is dominated by two picturesque lakes.
With some of the elegant aura of its sister track, Saratoga Race Course, in a suburban setting, Belmont is known as one of the most gorgeous and accommodating racecourses in the world. Along with Saratoga, Churchill Downs in Louisville, and Del Mar and Santa Anita racecourses in California, Belmont is considered one of the elite racetracks in the sport.
Belmont Park is operated by the non-profit New York Racing Association, as are Aqueduct and Saratoga Race Course. The group was formed in 1955 as the Greater New York Association to assume the assets of the individual associations that ran Belmont, Aqueduct, Saratoga and the now-defunct old Jamaica racetrack (The Rochdale Village housing development now occupies the site of Jamaica).
The original Belmont plant opened on May 4, 1905. In its first 15 or so years, Belmont Park featured racing clockwise, in the "English fashion" --allowing the upper-class members of the racing association and their guests to have the races finish in front of the clubhouse, just to the west of the grandstand. (A "field stand," at what was then the top of the stretch, was located east of the grandstand). The original finish line was located at the top of the present-day homestretch.
The old clubhouse was torn down in the 1950s, along with the Manice Mansion -- the turreted 19th-century homestead that served as the headquarters of Belmont's Turf and Field Club.
A later innovation was the creation of Joseph E. Widener, who took over track leadership when August Belmont II died in 1924. It was the Widener Course, a straightaway of just under seven furlongs (1,408 m) that cut diagonally through Belmont’s training and main tracks, hitting near the quarter-pole of the main track. It was removed in 1958.
There are presently two features of Old Belmont Park remaining today. First is the display of four stone pillars on Hempstead Turnpike, presented a gift from the Mayor and Park Commissioners of the City of Charleston, S.C. The pillars had stood at the entrance of the Washington Course of the South Carolina Jockey Club in Charleston, S.C., which operated from 1792 to 1882. The stone pillars are now found at the clubhouse entrance. Lesser known-but more visible-are the racing motif iron railings seen partially bordering the walking ring. The railings, used as decoration on the south side of the old Belmont grandstand, were salvaged during the 1963 demolition.
The original Belmont Park was not only unprecedented in its size, but also had the then-new innovation of a Long Island Rail Road extension from the Queens Village station, running along the property, tunneling under Hempstead Turnpike, then terminating on the south side of the property. The train terminal was moved to its present location north of the turnpike after the 1956 season.
Near the railroad terminal was yet another track -- Belmont Park Terminal, a steeplechase course operated by United Hunts until the 1920s.
In addition to racing history, Belmont Park made history in another industry native to the Hempstead Plains -- aviation. Some 150,000 people were drawn to the track on Oct. 30, 1910 at the climax of the a Wright Brothers-staged international aerial tournament, which had started eight years earlier. The event came at the beginning of a period (1910, 1911 and 1912) in which racing was outlawed in New York State.
Eight years later, Belmont and aviation were reunited when the racetrack served as the northern point of the first US air mail route, between the New York area and Washington, DC.
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