Belmont cancels racing, Nationals postpone game due to poor air quality from wildfires in Canada
Racing at Belmont Park was cancelled and the Washington Nationals' home game against the Arizona Diamondbacks was postponed Thursday due to poor air quality from wildfires in Canada.
It's the second straight day the continuing fires north of the border have impacted sports in the Northeastern United States. Several Major League Baseball games were called off Wednesday. A National Women's Soccer League game in New Jersey and an indoor WNBA game set for Brooklyn were also called off Wednesday amid hazy conditions that have raised alarms from health authorities.
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 throughout Thursday and possibly the weekend.
The New York Racing Association cancelled live racing at Belmont Park two days before the facility is scheduled to host the final leg of the Triple Crown with the Belmont Stakes.
As previously announced, morning training was cancelled Thursday at both Saratoga Race Course and Belmont Park. The conditions that necessitated the cancelation of training are likely to persist this afternoon and into the evening, according to the NYRA, and a twilight racing program that would kick off the 2023 Belmont Stakes Racing Festival has been cancelled.
"Based on current forecast models and consultation with our external weather services, we remain optimistic that we will see an improvement in air quality on Friday," NYRA President & CEO David O'Rourke said in a statement.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul warned the Belmont Stakes could be called off if the air quality index exceeds 200 on its scale.
If the air quality is 150 to 200, only horses that pass an additional pre-race vet examination will be permitted to race.
"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."
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 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 seeing the clear, 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 Major League Baseball said the Diamondbacks-Nationals postponement was made after conversations with medical and weather experts and the two teams "regarding clearly hazardous air quality conditions in Washington, DC."
Plans call for a makeup game at 1:05 p.m. on June 22 at Nationals Park.
The postponement comes a day after games in New York and Philadelphia were postponed because of the poor air. The Diamondbacks defeated the Nationals 6-2 on Wednesday when smoky conditions were noticeable, but not as severe as Thursday.
About 20 minutes before the 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 New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) was delaying its non-public state championship baseball games from Thursday to Friday. The organization also cut its two-day state championship track and field meet to just Saturday.
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference has moved its 12 boys and girls state tournament semifinals from Thursday to Friday.
The NFL's New York Giants also cancelled practice Thursday.
AP Sports Writers Tom Canavan, Pat Eaton-Robb, Dan Gelston and AP writer Patrick Stevens contributed to this report.
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