The New York Racing Association would be permitted to offer nighttime racing at Belmont Park under a state budget plan released Jan. 16 by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The plan, which still needs legislative approval, would allow Thorughbred racing after sunset at the Long Island track during limited periods.
NYRA officials last year pushed to get nighttime racing at Belmont approved as a way to try to attract new fans to racing. The idea died in the state Assembly after getting approval in the Senate.
In a state where the governor has strong control over the budget process, the new plan by Cuomo considerably improves the odds that nighttime racing could be approved when the state's fiscal plan gets final approval in early spring.
The proposal was buried deep within one of the New York governor's budget bills made public Tuesday.
It would permit post-sunset racing only if races are conducted on the main track in its current configuration and if all races conclude by 10:30 p.m. In addition, nighttime racing would be limited to Thursday through Saturday evenings.
Under the legislation, NYRA would have to coordinate starting times with Yonkers Raceway in nearby Westchester County to "ensure that starting times of all such races are staggered.''
NYRA presidnet and CEO Chris Kay recently told BloodHorse that when development of the planned 18,000-seat new home of the New York Islanders begins next year, NYRA hopes to begin its own upgrades that would include lighting for night racing, renovated racing surfaces, new luxury boxes, a renovated clubhouse, and renovated grounds—including dining and entertainment options centered on the paddock area.
As fans get used to visiting the new entertainment area and new arena for concerts and hockey games, he believes there will be an opportunity to have them return for night racing.
"I think the whole development that the Islanders have envisioned works well for Belmont and the horse racing industry as well," Kay said. "This is going to be a destination where people of all ages will be coming to this site. Some of them have never been exposed to the excitement and enjoyment of horse racing. We will now have an opportunity to go after generations who don't know much about us. This is going to be a great, cool place to come. We're very much an important part of this very cool place."
The bill would also create a new advisory committee to make recommendations related to "the structure, operations and funding of equine drug testing and research.'' A report by the panel would be due Dec. 1. The legislation would also increase the amount NYRA could keep in its budget reserves.
No official explanation for any of the provisions was immediately given other than that they would "add flexibility to current racing operations.''
NYRA spokesman Patrick McKenna said the racing corporation "strongly supports" the Cuomo proposal as a way to "reach new audiences, drive tourism and grow interest in Thoroughbred racing in New York.''
McKenna said the idea is an important aspect of efforts to expand the Belmont area beyond just racing; the state recently tapped the New York Islanders' bid to locate its home arena on a largely unused portion of the Belmont property in a development that will include space for entertainment, dining and lodging.
"The legislation proposed in the governor's executive budget, couple with (New York State) Senate passage of a night racing bill in 2017, demonstrates significant progress toward our goal of making night racing at Belmont Park a reality for the benefit of our fans, the sport and the state's economy,'' McKenna said.