Fans return to Long Island for Belmont Stakes

The Belmont Stakes is almost back in full swing after the pandemic kept the iconic horse race closed to spectators last year. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions this year, only 10 to 11,000 people will be in attendance Saturday. In previous years, anywhere from about 70 to 90,000 spectators would fill the park. Still, organizers anticipate an unforgettable day.

"This is an enormous facility but 10,000 people here will certainly feel special as we turn the page on COVID collectively," said Pat McKenna, Communications Director for the New York Racing Association.

The 153rd running of the Belmont Stakes is a much-needed boost to Long Island’s economy, this year more than ever as the island recovers from COVID-19. Millions of dollars are expected to pour into local businesses this weekend— money that was lost last year. The Garden City Hotel is completely sold out this weekend.

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"That hasn’t happened in a very long time. So we are super excited about that," said Grady Colin, Managing Director of The Garden City Hotel.

The third and last leg of the triple crown is set to take place Saturday at Belmont Park at 6:49 p.m., and there is a lot of excitement, even though there won’t be a triple crown champion. 

This also follows a major scandal, after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit failed a drug test.

At the park this weekend, visitors can find a pop-up vaccination site where they can get the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot and go home with a free ticket to next year’s Belmont Stakes. 

Medina Spirit won't be the only controversy at the racetrack this weekend, as animal rights groups will protest outside of the park Saturday because they say more than 20 horses have died at Belmont Park this year. 

The New York Racing Association acknowledges the deaths and told FOX 5 NY it prioritizes safety and welcomes an open dialogue with the animal rights groups. 

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