NYRA reinforces community bond with Belmont Stakes Racing Festival-related events
by Bob Ehalt
Millions of eyes from across the country will be focused on Belmont Park on Saturday, June 9, when Justify bids to become the 13th Triple Crown champion in the 150th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets.
Yet for the towns that neighbor Belmont Park, there's an even more special bond with the prestigious classic; one that energizes local residents and brings out their pride in having such a renowned national sporting event in their backyard.
"There's so much attention on us and Belmont Park when there's a Triple Crown on the line and it gets everyone excited about the Belmont Stakes," said Paul Sapienza, president of the Elmont Chamber of Commerce. "We're proud to have the racetrack here in our town and over the years, it, and the Belmont Stakes have become entwined in the fabric of our community."
As an important member of the community, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) has been working with nearby towns for more than 10 years to create civic events and fund-raisers tied to the Belmont Stakes, giving thousands of local residents an opportunity to join in the festivities and build-up for the historic third jewel of the Triple Crown.
On-track, NYRA will again host local non-profits and service providers on Day 1 of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, Thursday, June 8.
"Community Day" shines a light on the mission and goals of partner organizations which set up informational booths and participate in activities designed to raise awareness for their efforts.
A key part of those civic events will also be the 11th annual Belmont/Elmont Parade on Saturday, June 2, as well as the Floral Park Street Festival and Integrated Medical Foundation's seventh annual Belmont Stakes Blue Ribbon 5K Run for Prostate Center, both on Sunday, June 3.
The Belmont/Elmont Parade begins at 10 a.m. at the Elmont Public Library (700 Hempstead Turnpike) and will proceed west before entering Belmont Park at Gate 5. Among the participants will be elected officials, local leaders, marching bands from Elmont public schools, members of the police and fire departments and local youth organizations.
Serving as grand marshals of the parade are NYRA President and CEO Chris Kay, New York Islanders co-owner Jonathan Ledecky and Sandra Smith, chairwoman of the Elmont Coalition for Sustainable Development.
"We hold a special place in our hearts for the parade because Belmont Park and the Belmont Stakes are a big part of our community and it's such a great way to celebrate that," said Sapienza, a life-long Elmont resident and owner of Sapienza Bake Shop. "The kids love it. The schools love it. Everybody gets behind it and it brings the local community together. Everyone has representation and it draws us all together."
"NYRA has been a wonderful neighbor," Sapienza said. "They have been very helpful with our after-school programs. We've worked with them to bring students to the racetrack, introducing them to veterinarians, dentists, blacksmiths and farriers to open their eyes and show them what's available at Belmont Park in terms of jobs in the future. It's not just jockeys and horses. There's a whole industry there and we also have equine businesses surrounding the racetrack."
The NYRA jockey colony will pay its annual Belmont Stakes week visit to the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island to interact with the families and raise awareness for the important work the RMH does to support families of young people undergoing treatment in local hospitals. Located on the campus of the Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, the House has accommodated approximately 30,000 families from the United States and more than 80 countries around the world since its opening in 1986.
The Floral Park Street Festival had traditionally been held the day after the Belmont Stakes but has been moved to the weekend before it to help build more interest in the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival from June 7-9.
"When we had the Triple Crown winner in 2015 with American Pharaoh, that was our best fair. There was so much energy in the air," Floral Park Chamber of Commerce President Stephen Wickes said. "This year we're trying to create more of a buzz about the race and all of the racing during the week at Belmont Park, so we moved it to the Sunday before it. The Belmont Stakes plays a big role in our town's history and a lot of people get excited about it."
The Floral Park Street Festival will be held on Tulip Avenue, between Plainfield and Verbena avenues, from 1-6 p.m.
Wickes said the Street Festival attracts about 6,000 visitors to take part in the music, food booths, dance performances, rides and giveaways.
Integrated Medical Foundation's seventh annual Belmont Stakes Blue Ribbon Run for Prostate Cancer features a 5K run/walk around the Belmont Park grounds that ends with the 1,000 participants running on the main track and crossing the same finish line that will determine the winner of the 150th Belmont Stakes.
In its first six years, the 5K has raised $350,000 for prostate cancer education, screening and support.
With the event taking place on National Cancer Survivors Day, cancer survivors will be honored in the Belmont Park winner's circle prior to the 7:15 p.m. start of the race/walk.
In addition, prostate and high-blood pressure screening will be available.
"It's important for us to acknowledge the cancer survivors in our community," said Rhonda Samuel, Executive Director of the Integrated Medical Foundation. "We love partnering with NYRA and they've done a great job of working with us and making it happen."
The race/walk will start at Belmont Park's paddock gate with track bugler Sam Grossman playing "The Call to Post" and Eclipse Award-winning jockey Jose Ortiz serving as the grand marshal.
"NYRA is proud to support the communities surrounding Belmont Park throughout the year, and in particular during the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival," said NYRA communications director Pat McKenna. "These efforts take a variety of forms during the Belmont Stakes week all with the goal of supporting locally based organizations."