Somewhat on the spur of the moment this past Saturday, I decided to make the short trip to Belmont Park for this year’s Stakes Day. Actually, it wasn’t so short after a couple of train changes, and going home, I got a small taste of the dreaded “Change at Jamaica” in trying to make the necessary connections. But no big deal, a small price to pay for having a good time and not having to fight traffic on the local roads.
Belmont is a bit of a throwback to an earlier time in sports. The general admission charge was $10 (less for most days of the meet, more for reserved seats and the Clubhouse) and there are obvious signs of aging in the main building. Still, it’s certainly a more than functional venue. Once inside, you have license to walk around most of the place, except the track, barns, and seating areas. Basically, I went to place bets with the help of muddy-old television screens, a program, or the Daily Racing Form which could be purchased. A little instinct and luck helps too. You can also go to the track’s backyard, where fans scarf down food and drinks- unfortunately for modern-era prices- and watch for horses to take the ceremonial march to the track. After that, they either queue along the front stretch for a view of the race (and during the Stakes itself, the crowd was several people deep) or watch from benches inside. Either way, you have to watch most of the race off a TV since you can’t see much of the track unless you’re in one of those premium reserved seats/boxes higher up. When the horses arrive “down the stretch,” man do people scream, hoping to cash in big. In an era of all-seat stadiums (or at least benched bleachers) with direct views of the playing field, horse racing is a taste of what it might have been like to watch outside the ropes at old-time baseball parks, which sometimes were literally all that separated fans from the outfield or foul territory.
How did my wagering fare? Not so well. There was one consolation prize. I managed to get close enough to the winner’s circle during the Belmont Stakes to see Summer Bird cross the line and then get someone else to take a few pictures of the celebration. Oh, and I was just about face-to-face with the Governor, in a cheerful mood on this occasion, as he shook hands and autographed programs for everyone who could get close to him. Hey, with the specter of a tough reelection campaign and maybe even a party primary next year, who could blame him for trying to work the crowd a bit. Of course, he wasn’t so jovial after yesterday’s chaos… What a mess in Albany. No leadership, no ideas, and not much else to write home about either.
Good way to spend a perfect summer afternoon. Next time though, I seriously gotta do more homework on the horses so I can actually win money!