Belmont Stakes would be canceled if air quality is too unhealthy, Gov. Hochul says: ‘It’s going to be a last-minute decision’

The Belmont Stakes would be canceled this weekend if New York’s air quality is deemed too unhealthy due to the Canadian wildfires, Gov. Hochul said Thursday.

Hochul introduced enhanced safety measures that include canceling Saturday’s horse race at Belmont Park if the air quality index there exceeds 200. If the index is between 150 and 200, horses would need to pass a pre-race veterinarian exam to compete.

“This is a national phenomenon. People come from all over the country,” Hochul said at a news conference in Albany. “It’s huge for the local economy. We hopefully can get this going, but there’s no assurance of what the weather’s going to be, so it’s going to be a last-minute decision, I’m sure.”

The measures apply to all racetracks within the state. The Environmental Protection Agency considers an index between 201 and 300 to be “very unhealthy,” and an index between 151 and 200 to be “unhealthy.”

The air quality in Elmont, N.Y., where the Belmont Stakes take place, was at 164 on Thursday afternoon. Hochul said the safety measures were designed to “protect the horses and the riders and the spectators.”

The New York State Gaming Commission instructed racetracks to cancel training and workouts beginning Wednesday until further notice.

Saturday would mark the 155th running of the Belmont Stakes, which serves as the third leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown. There is no opportunity for a Triple Crown winner this year, as Mage won the Kentucky Derby and National Treasure won the Preakness Stakes. Forte is the slight favorite to win the Belmont with 5-2 odds.

The New York Racing Association canceled live racing at Belmont Park for Thursday.

“Based on current forecast models and consultation with our external weather services, we remain optimistic that we will see an improvement in air quality on Friday,” NYRA President & CEO David O’Rourke said in the announcement.

The Belmont Stakes would become the latest local sports staple to be affected by the smoky haze from the wildfires. Wednesday night’s game in the Bronx between the Yankees and Chicago White Sox was postponed, along with the WNBA game between the Liberty and Minnesota Lynx at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, while the Giants canceled their practices Thursday and Friday due to similarly unsafe conditions in New Jersey.

The Yankees expect to play their doubleheader against the White Sox on Thursday, manager Aaron Boone said after a noon meeting with Major League Baseball.