When you think of horses and New York City, usually the carriages of Central Park come to mind. But right outside Queens is Belmont Park, a racetrack that still stands testament to a glory era of horse racing in America. It has not only has hosted famous thoroughbreds winners like Man o’ War, Secretariat, War Admiral and Sir Barton, but also has been the site of many historic moments: an airshow by Wilbur and Orville Wright and the first airmail service between Washington D.C. and New York. In addition, the track was built at the initiative of August Belmont and former Secretary of the Navy William C. Whitney, on the grand 650-acre estate of William de Forest Manice, who once literally owned the plot of land that became Herald Square.
Today, a day at the races at Belmont Park conjures some of this, but it’s more about the push and pull of past and present, as the sport undergoes a renaissance of sorts. Posh thoroughbred owners, race fans, and hobby attendees brush against each other. Most of the time it feels more like a picnic, but that changes the minute a race begins. People gather up at the rail, shouting with the same energy you can imagine when racing was in its heyday.
On our recent visit, we were taken behind the scenes into the paddock area, where the horses get groomed and walked before their race–but it’s also open to public view behind low barriers, without the crowds of the Kentucky Derby.
There’s something easygoing about Belmont Park, but for the fashion-forward crowd, it’s a perfect place to dress up too. And unlike Aqueduct Racetrack in South Ozone Park, Queens that’s active all year round, Belmont Park has a season. The biggest event each year is Belmont Stakes, coming up June 4th to 6th.
While the first race at Belmont Park in 1905 sparked the first traffic jam on Long Island, nearly half the attendees also took the train to a station of the Long Island Rail Road (slightly further north than the existing station), which is how we arrived. It’s a great way to feel out of New York City by just barely leaving it.
Learn more at America’s Best Racing. Next, go behind the scenes at the Clinton Park Horse Stables where the Central Park horse and carriages are housed. Get in touch with the author @untappedmich.