A starting gate rests unused on an empty track as haze from Canadian wildfires obscures the sun ahead of the Belmont Stakes horse race, Thursday, June 8, 2023, at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. Training was cancelled for the day due to poor air quality. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
CNN  — 

Racing will resume at Belmont Park, home of this year’s Belmont Stakes, on Friday after the New York Racing Association (NYRA) cited a “significant improvement in air quality conditions.”

There were fears the iconic race, which is due to be held on Saturday in Elmont, New York, might be impacted by the smoke originating from Canada which continues to shroud US cities.

The NYRA postponed Thursday’s schedule at Belmont Park and said racing would only be authorised if conditions improved.

Friday’s announcement that the day’s race schedule will go ahead boosts the likelihood that the Belmont Stakes will take place as planned.

“Following significant improvement in air quality conditions throughout New York State, and in consultation with the New York State Gaming Commission (NYSGC), the New York Racing Association announced that live racing will resume at Belmont Park today at 12:50 p.m,” a NYRA statement said.

It added: “Moving forward, NYRA will continue to actively monitor air quality conditions and forecasts to ensure the environment remains safe for racing participants and fans this weekend.”

Millions across the US and Canada remain at risk of inhaling potentially harmful air as wildfire smoke continues to wreak havoc. Parts of the East Coast are expected to continue to suffer poor air quality until at least the weekend.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) – one of the largest animal rights organizations in the world – called for the race to be postponed earlier this week “due to smoke and the dangerous particulate level.”

“If the air in New York is unsafe for humans, it will be worse for horses running at top speed,” PETA said in a statement.

“The safety of the horses must come before profit and tradition, even if it means postponing the Belmont Stakes.”

Jun 7, 2023; Elmont, New York, USA; Belmont Stakes contenders Tapit Trice (left) and Forte (center) are walked along the training track after a morning workout at Belmont Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Horse safety

On Thursday, New York’s governor Kathy Hochul told reporters that the race could be cancelled if the air quality index exceeds 200.

It was explained that if the air quality index was between 150-200, only horses that have passed a medical examination would be permitted to race.

“People come from all over the country. It’s huge for the local economy. And so we can hopefully can get this going,” Hochul said.

“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.”

Should the event go ahead as planned, all eyes will be on Belmont Park for the final leg of the coveted Triple Crown – a series which includes the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

This year’s races have already been marred by multiple horse deaths and questions about animal welfare in the sport but there are still nine horses set to compete for the prestigious prize.

How to watch

The Belmont Stakes will take place on Saturday at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.

For the first time, Fox will broadcast all of Saturday’s races instead of its usual home on NBC.

The big race will start at 7.02 p.m. ET.

The lineup and odds

The odds are from the Belmont Stakes official website and are correct as of June 9 at 7 a.m ET

Tapit Shoes: 20-1

Tapit Trice: 3-1

Arcangelo: 8-1

National Treasure: 5-1

Il Miracolo: 30-1

Forte: 5-2

Hit Show: 10-1

Angel of Empire: 7-2

Red Route One: 15-1

Ones to watch

The Belmont will offer an opportunity of redemption for Forte, who was scratched from this year’s Kentucky Derby at the last minute.

The horse was forced to miss the first leg of the Triple Crown by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission state veterinarian due to a bruised right front foot but he heads into the Belmont as the heavy favourite.

His biggest competition will likely come from the likes of Tapit Trice, Angel of Empire and Bob Baffert’s National Treasure – which won the Preakness Stakes last month.

The win made Baffert the winningest trainer in Preakness Stakes history, having now had eight horses win the race.