Racing at Belmont Park was canceled on Thursday due to poor air quality from wildfires in Canada, and New York's governor warned that the Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown, could be affected if conditions don't improve by Saturday.
It was the second straight day in which the fires north of the border affected sports in the northeastern United States. In Major League Baseball, the Washington Nationals' home game against the Arizona Diamondbacks was postponed Thursday, a day after games were called off at New York and Philadelphia.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said one of racing's biggest events could be scrapped if the air quality index on Saturday exceeds 200, the Environmental Protection Agency benchmark for air that is very unhealthy for everyone. If the air quality is measured at 150 to 200, only horses that pass an additional pre-race veterinary examination will be permitted to race, said Hochul, a Democrat.
“People come from all over the country,” Hochul said. “It’s huge for the local economy. And so 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.”
New York Racing Association vice president of communications Patrick McKenna said in a statement to The Associated Press that state officials and the NYRA consulted on how to proceed going forward in “our shared efforts to provide the safest possible environment for training and racing thoroughbred horses.”
McKenna said his group remains “optimistic that conditions will allow for the resumption of training and racing on Friday in advance of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.”
With weather systems expected to barely budge, the smoky blanket billowing from wildfires in Quebec and Nova Scotia and sending plumes of fine particulate matter as far away as North Carolina and northern Europe could persist through the weekend.
Morning training was also canceled Thursday at Saratoga Race Course, and a twilight racing program that would kick off the 2023 Belmont Stakes Racing Festival was canceled.
Paula Creamer, the 2010 U.S. Women's Open champion, was among several golfers wearing masks during a pro-am in Galloway, New Jersey, on Thursday, a day before the ShopRite LPGA Classic was to begin.
Creamer also wore sunglasses during most of her nine holes as her eyes became irritated with the hazy, smoky conditions.
Creamer is accustomed to a clear view of the Atlantic City skyline as she poses for a pro-am photo. This was different.
“You can’t even see an outline of it,” she said. "It’s such a wild thing. I don’t know if I’ve ever played in a tournament where we have to worry about the air and pollution, especially in the United States.”
A statement from MLB said the Diamondbacks-Nationals game was postponed after conversations with medical and weather experts and the teams “regarding clearly hazardous air quality conditions in Washington, D.C.” It was rescheduled for June 22.
The Diamondbacks beat the Nationals 6-2 on Wednesday when smoky conditions were noticeable, but not as severe. About 20 minutes before Thursday's game was called off, Washington manager Dave Martinez said he took his dog for a walk earlier in the morning.
“Not good,” Martinez said. “It was a quick one. ... It’s pretty bad out there.”
The NFL’s New York Giants also canceled practice Thursday.
AP Sports Writers Tom Canavan, Pat Eaton-Robb and Dan Gelston, and AP writer Patrick Stevens, contributed to this report.
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