After 104 years as the home of the third leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes could fall victim to Albany’s budget mess — or so says the New York Racing Association, which operates the Queens track where it’s held. The group has a budget shortfall; it’s currently campaigning for the enactment of a long-delayed plan to set up slot machines at Aqueduct, one of two other tracks it runs. If the legislature doesn’t make this happen, says hardball-playing NYRA president Charles Hayward, the Belmont Stakes might not happen this year, either. “If we can’t make payroll, we have to shut down. There is certainly a possibility that Belmont may not open and there will be no third leg of the Triple Crown,” he told the Daily News.
It’s part of a saga that has been going on since 2001, when — amid another battered economy — then-Governor George Pataki and the State Legislature first approved the installation of slot machines at racetracks. But the state hasn’t been able to pick a vendor, which it hopes to charge $200 million up front. The problem, according to a November article in the Times, is that the Governor’s office can’t agree with the leaders of the Assembly and the Senate on which of the seven submitted bids to accept.
Will this actually end up ruining the Triple Crown? Probably not. The race brings in tens of thousands of visitors (and their corresponding revenue) to the park every year. There are many other ways that the NYRA could cut their budget — they’d just rather not have to resort to layoffs or pay cuts, and they probably realized that this kind of a leak was the best way to get attention for their Aqueduct problem. Hayward has admitted as much already: today he told Bloodhorse.com, a leading racing-news site, that he wasn’t actually threatening to cancel the race. “It’s still our plan,” he said, in what jargon-y politico types like to call a walkback, “to run the Belmont Stakes.”