Apr 29th 2009 01:00 am |
The unique configuration of Belmont, its massive grandstand, beautiful paddock area, and, above all, the ghosts of racing’s past provides a setting like no other.
Image: Belmont Park, 1905 (New York Public Library)
The facility, as it now stands, was opened in 1968. The 1905 grandstand was much smaller.
When the decision was made to tear down the original grandstand and the track closed for renovations in 1963, New Yorker writer Audax Minor was less than enthused. Here is how he reported the end to what is now referred to as the Old Belmont Park:
“As you have probably heard, there will be no racing at Belmont Park this season – and for nobody knows how many seasons to come. The New York Racing Association announced last week that because of the ‘progressive deterioration of the steel structure’ – a Madison Avenue phrase if I ever heard one – the grandstand would have to be closed and the spring and autumn meeting transferred to Aqueduct. Demolition of the stand, it was said, is expected to begin soon. So be it.”
Images: Postcard of Belmont Park Race Course, circa 1920. View from the grandstand, 1913.
“Belmont Park may be reopened, but to those who have known the charm of the old place, it can never be the same. It is as though a national figure had suffered from some great tragedy; he survives, but he is different. If the track is rebuilt, it will surely be modern, functional, and without atmosphere – like any other mutuel track. There was something about Belmont that raised it above the level of other racecourses. It wasn’t merely the historic races that were run there, for richer stakes were to be run elsewhere, and it wasn’t just the excellence of the track itself, which gave every runner a fair chance. But Belmont seemed to show racing at its best, in a spacious setting. Whatever the reason, it also brought out the best in horses, and winning at Belmont was something that a stable could be justifiably proud of.”
Needless to say, the fears of Audax Minor did not come to be. While the facility changed, the power of the place remains. I guess there is something about Belmont Park that transcends bricks and mortar.
Check out Brooklyn Backstretch for more on historic Belmont Park
SOURCES, NOTES, AND OBSERVATIONS
Audax Minor, “The Race Track: Curtains for Belmont,” The New Yorker, April 20, 1963
Audax Minor was the pen name of George F.T. Rydall who wrote a regular racing column for the New Yorker from 1926 to 1978 (that is not a typo, over 50 years!). Read more about Minor here
The first image is from the New York Public Library. The postcard and the second image are from Ebay.
If any readers have memories of the Old Belmont Park, I would love to hear from you?
Speaking of the New Yorker — I am a subscriber but have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the magazine (it can be painfully elitist). The article on Larry Jones in this week’s issue is a reminder on why I subscribe. Rarely does a mainstream publication provide a fair-minded, thorough treatment of racing — the New Yorker has done just that. The author Peter J. Boyer has written an outstanding piece that avoids the silly caricatures of racing pervasive in the non-racing media. If you are a race fan – it is worth checking out.
THANKS FOR READING AND GOOD LUCK!