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NYRA gets OK for Tunnel at Belmont, Mile Chute at Spa

No word yet on whether construction will impact fall racing at Belmont Park.

Horses breaking from the gate at Belmont Park

Horses breaking from the gate at Belmont Park

Coglianese Photos

The New York Racing Association received financial approval Jan. 14 for construction plans involving a mile chute at Saratoga Race Course and an infield tunnel at Belmont Park, but remains unable to say if the work at Belmont will impact the fall racing schedule at the Elmont, N.Y., racetrack.

While securing approvals for several items Friday at a meeting of NYRA's Financial Oversight Board, the possibility of conducting Belmont Park's fall meet at Aqueduct Racetrack was raised. But afterwards a NYRA official said it would be premature to comment on that possibility since a timeline for the work at Belmont has yet to be announced.

"There has been no final decision made on moving the Belmont Park fall meet to Aqueduct," NYRA vice president of communications Pat McKenna said. "NYRA is required to make certain assumptions for budgeting purposes, and those assumptions were discussed today with the Franchise Oversight Board. While it is possible the Belmont fall meet will be conducted at Aqueduct, there will be no final decision on the fall meet until we have a clear picture of the permitting process and construction timeline for the infield tunnel at Belmont Park. Should the tunnel project not allow for the fall meet to be safely conducted at Belmont then it will be moved to Aqueduct."

The infield tunnel is a first step in NYRA's plans to renovate Belmont Park so that it can conduct winter racing. Those plans are expected to include the construction of a synthetic racing surface. Among the other numerous possibilities for the project is a reconfiguration of the racing surface.

"Following the conclusion of the Belmont Park fall meet in November, NYRA began the construction of a retaining wall necessary for an eventual tunnel to provide vehicular and pedestrian access to the 55-acre Belmont infield. The retaining wall project is on schedule and expected to be completed in the spring. Following today's approval by the Franchise Oversight Board, NYRA will proceed to the design phase of the tunnel project," McKenna said. "In the near term, unlocking the infield will allow NYRA to renovate the Belmont racing surfaces and determine the feasibility of adding a synthetic surface to the current configuration. With the significant and permanent reduction in backyard space due to the UBS Arena, the infield will become usable space for fans during big events. In addition, NYRA looks forward to providing open space for the community surrounding Belmont Park."

The reconstruction of the Wilson Chute at Saratoga is scheduled for the spring and will include the widening of the first turn by roughly five to nine feet.

The chute, which was dismantled in 1972 to create room for extra parking space, made a brief reappearance in 1992.

Artist rendering of the new Post Bar area at Saratoga
Photo: NYRA
Artist rendering of the new Post Bar area at Saratoga Race Course

"The Wilson Chute will only add to the quality and consistency of dirt racing at Saratoga," said Glen Kozak, NYRA's senior vice president of operations and capital projects. "It's a thrill to be able to reconstruct a historic element of Saratoga in a way that will undoubtedly prove beneficial to the summer meet."

Construction at Saratoga will also include turning the Post Bar near the paddock into a two-story Post Bar and Paddock Suite area

"The second story Paddock Suite will feature a climate-controlled bar, lounge, and outdoor balcony with sweeping views of the historic Saratoga paddock. The Paddock Suite will be available to groups and individuals, pending availability, by reservation. The Paddock Suite will sit above the newly renovated Post Bar which will remain an open-air structure featuring a central bar and large-scale televisions. The Post Bar, one of the most popular destinations for fans at Saratoga, will continue to be accessible to all guests, ages 21 and over," McKenna said. "In addition to the new Post Bar, NYRA will upgrade the Tailgate at the Turn section and renovate and enhance concession areas throughout the property."

NYRA also received approval to convert its Pony Track at Belmont Park into a synthetic surface to test how that kind of surface will handle winter conditions on Long Island and if it will be viable for winter racing.

"NYRA has been studying the evolution of synthetic surfaces for many years and we've long been interested in how they can complement our training and racing options. The installation of a synthetic surface on the Belmont Park Pony Track will provide an all-weather training option and yield important information on how the current synthetics will perform in the Belmont climate. This is data and information that will inform the composition of a synthetic racing surface that is likely to be part of a renovated Belmont Park," McKenna said.