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Belmont Stakes: Secretariat Triple Crown celebration subdued by death, air quality


Horse racing was supposed to be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Secretariat’s record-setting triumph this week, but more serious concerns have taken center stage.
This was supposed to be the year thoroughbred racing celebrated the 50th anniversary of Secretariat’s magnificent Triple Crown triumph as the current crop of 3-year-olds finished their run on center stage.
Heading into the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes on Saturday, the racing has become almost an afterthought as the public has focused on a recent spike in deaths of horses at racetracks and air quality problems in the northeast caused by wildfires in Canada. And there is no Secretariat on the scene to make everyone forget the issues.
A highly competitive field of nine led by 2-year-old champion Forte and Preakness winner National Treasure is set to run in the 1½ miles test of champions on a card that features almost all stakes races.
At least one problem disappeared Friday as live racing resumed at Belmont Park thanks to a major improvement in air quality. The heavy smoke had forced the track to cancel Thursday and prompted New York Gov. Kathy Hochul to warn Saturday’s racing could be affected if conditions didn’t improve.
Bryan Ramsey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office on Long Island, said the air quality improved vastly on Friday as winds came out of the west at 5-to-10 mph.
“The Canadian fires are still putting out smoke but that should not be coming to our area,” Ramsey said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
The safety of the horses is a major concern. Churchill Downs suspended racing operations recently and moved its meet to Ellis Park in the wake of 12 horse fatalities the past month at the home of the Kentucky Derby.
While Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert won the Preakness with National Treasure, his Havnameltdown had to be euthanized after falling in the sixth race. A 6-year-old horse died at Belmont last week after being injured in a race.
The thoroughbred industry insists it is doing everything possible to keep the animals safe. Industry leaders say the sport has never been safer, with horse fatalities down 37.5% since they started being tracked in 2009.

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