Belmont Park, one of Thoroughbred racing’s more famous venues, can trace its history back to 1895. It was in that year the Westchester Racing Association was formed and began conducting racing at old Morris Park in the Bronx. Soon, keeping in step with the Gilded Age of the coming 20th century, two of the Association’s key members – August Belmont, Jr. and former Secretary of the Navy William C. Whitney – headed a syndicate to find land on Long Island on which to build a larger, more elaborate race track.
In 1902, the syndicate settled on land in Nassau County, including a small portion extending into Queens County. Known for years as Foster’s Meadow – it had been purchased by Christopher and Thomas Foster in 1647 – the land had, since 1882, been known as Elmont. That name, selected over Farmer’s Valley and Belle Font, was chosen at a town meeting in order to establish a post office.
The syndicate sought to buy as much property as it could in Elmont, although it kept its purpose secret. Their mission was so secret, in fact, that in early 1902 the first people to sell their property to the syndicate thought they had sold it for the purpose of building a housing development or a cemetery. By September of that year, however, the true purpose was made known and the most beautiful of the more than 650 acres, the Tudor-Gothic Manice Mansion, known as “Oatlands,” was sold by New York attorney William De Forest Manice to the syndicate for $125,000.
By March, 1903, a large force of engineers had begun work on the new track. The death of William C. Whitney in early 1904 delayed further work until March of that year. It was Whitney who had suggested one year earlier the new track be named Belmont Park in honor of his friend, August Belmont, Jr. Belmont Park opened on Thursday, May 4, 1905.
Belmont Park has played host to almost every major star in Thoroughbred racing during the last century and is firmly established as one of the world’s great sporting sites. At a mile and half, it is the largest track in North America and it, along with Aqueduct Racetrack and Saratoga Race Course, is operated by the New York Racing Association, Inc., which in 2008 earned the state franchise to operate these three tracks for another 25 years. Set on 445 acres of property, Belmont Park has been called the “Taj Mahal of American Racing.”
Belmont Park will run for 56 days during its 2013 Spring/Summer meet, April 26–July 14; and 37 days during its fall meet, September 7–October 27.
The premier event of the Spring/Summer Meet is the 145th running of the $1 million Belmont Stakes on June 8. The 1½-mile Belmont Stakes is the oldest and longest leg of racing’s Triple Crown, which also includes the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. Racing’s 11th and most recent Triple Crown winner was Affirmed, who defeated Alydar by a head in the Belmont Stakes during their classic rivalry 35 years ago in 1978.