Rain-soaked Belmont Park, Tuesday morning.

Rain-soaked Belmont Park, Tuesday morning.

Barbara D. Livingston

Nor'Easter Hits Belmont; Track a Ghost Town

On a morning not fit for man nor beast, it was hard to find any of either outside a shedrow Tuesday morning at Belmont Park. A huge storm hit the area with steady rain and blowing winds.

Though the main track and training track were both open for training, only a handful of brave souls ventured out. Instead, horses were being walked in their barns. When daylight started hitting the track, there was not a single horse on the big, wide sweeping oval called Belmont Park.

At one point, trainer Christophe Clement had a set of horses on the track and trainer Linda Rice sent a horse to jog. But those were the clear exceptions on a bitter day in New York.

The only Breeders' Cup horse that ventured to the track was the Steve Asmussen-trained Private Vow, who had an open gallop down the stretch.

The only good thing is that the forecast was accurate so horsemen headed the warning and sent their horses to the track Monday. The clockers were completely overwhelmed Monday, timing 245 horses on the main track (including seven on turf) and 86 on the training track.

Everyone was watching the forecasts Monday afternoon and the National Weather Service issued a wind advisory for Long Island, N.Y., site of the track in Elmont. The agency warned of 30-35 mile per hour winds with gusts of 50 miles per hour.

Meadowlands canceled for Tuesday afternoon and had it not been a dark day at Belmont, it is assumed it would have canceled also.

The rain was predicted to start at 8 p.m. Monday and actually began about an hour earlier.

Actually there was other good news – had the temperature been lower, a major snowstorm would have been piling up instead of blowing rain.

The storm is a true Nor'easter, something those who live on the east coast understand but few others can comprehend. For the record, a Nor'easter is a storm system that circulates around a storm center combining a coastal storm with winds. The winds blow back to the east, which is not the norm.

On this occasion, the effects of Hurricane Wilma were colliding with two other storms, one that Monday night blew up from the Ohio Valley, the other pushing down through New England.

On the backside Tuesday morning, several roads were covered with water and heavy wind made conditions difficult.

The races at Belmont were taken off the turf this past Saturday and Sunday and few believe with the rain falling Tuesday they will run any races on the grass before Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships day Saturday.

The forecast is for rain to fall all day Tuesday and start to diminish Wednesday. Then things are to clear up and for Friday and Saturday, it is predicted to be sunny and in the mid 50s.

Before the rain started Monday night, it was already a record October rainfall for New York.

The Breeders' Cup has been run at Belmont three times previously and it has always been chilly while one year rains the week leading up the event made the track sloppy and the turf courses boggy.

In 1990, the temperature was 43 degrees but the main track was fast and the turf course good. The attendance was 51,236.

In 1995, the temperature was nice, 66 degrees, but the dirt track was muddy and the turf course was listed as soft. The attendance was the lowest in the 21 runnings of the event, with only 37,246 showing up. To show how soft the course was in 1995 and how much it affected the grass races, consider this – the time for the 12-furlong Turf that year was 2:42.07. In 1990 the time was 2:29 3/5 and in 2001 the time was 2:24.36. In 2001, the temperature was fine, 50 degrees, and the main track was fast and the turf courses firm. The crowd was 52,987.

The all-time highest attendance occurred in 1998, when 80,452 showed up at Churchill Downs.