The Belmont Stakes is the Triple Crown race that I’ve had the great pleasure of attending the most; I went to my very first one when I was 14 years old, and I’ve always loved the spectacle of the final jewel of the Triple Crown right outside of New York City.
Now that I’m a grown-up (well, close enough!) working in the horse racing game and living in the Big Apple, I have all the more reason to love the Belmont Stakes. Known in racing circles as the “Test of the Champion,” the Belmont is one and a half miles of pure adrenaline that has pitted some of the finest horses in the country to ever run against each other.
Sunday marked the 40th anniversary of Secretariat’s breathtaking Belmont win, and I urge you to watch that race if you want to witness equine immortality.
That race is so impressive, so memorable and so moving that there is a marker, erected this year, 31 lengths from the finish line at Belmont Park to commemorate the Secretariat’s massive margin of victory.
Although 2013 wasn’t a year with a possibility for a Triple Crown Champion, Saturday’s Belmont Stakes was still a great day of racing for Thoroughbred fans both new and long established. Despite monsoon-like conditions in the New York area on Friday, the Racing Gods smiled on us on Saturday and we were treated to a spectacular day to watch some top-notch horses and riders duke it out over the largest racetrack in America.
When I arrived at the track, the gates were about to open to let fans in; after going through security and dumping my bag in the press box, I went out into the Backyard to explore the sites. There were fans galore, setting up picnics that they’d brought with them and relaxing in the sunshine.
There were roving bands of musicians playing for people at their picnic tables, which was a really cool, old-school touch.
Lots of people brought props to decorate their areas. The guys below are blowing up an inflatable palm tree for a tropical vibe:
And these folks had a huge trophy to go with their awesome spread. They bring it every year, and it’s awarded to the person who picks the most winning horses among their group. I love seeing that kind of friendly competition, and I was tempted to see if I could hang out with them all afternoon – they seemed to be having a blast!
I also loved seeing the fashion at Belmont. New Yorkers really know how to turn on the glamor, and there were plenty of chic, sophisticated examples of race day fashion at Belmont Park on Saturday. Black and white were popular choices, showing up in many iterations around the track.
It is summertime, though, so there were plenty of colorful outfits on both men and women, perfect for an afternoon at the track.
People weren’t the only ones dressed up; I always love seeing the pony horses, those equines charged with escorting racehorses safely to the starting gate, in their formal wear for big race days. Look at these awesome pom-poms!
It’s also always great to see little kids enjoying an afternoon out with the family. The racetrack really is a great place for people of all ages, and is there anything cuter than a child in a hat? I can’t think of much that is.
Speaking of family, I was a super-happy girl on Belmont day because my family was there, too! Here’s my dad with my two sisters and me – all I can say is that one of these people is not like the others! You can tell which one of us is there at the races as a working stiff. Please note my extremely fashionable bright yellow photographer’s penny.
I also got to snap a photo with two of my favorite racing girls, journalists Alicia Wincze Hughes and Claire Novak. That’s one of the great things about this game: the friendships that you make just from going to the races. It truly is one of the most social sports in the world, and it’s one of the many, many reasons that I love racing so much.
I also had a chance to swing by the ABRV, where our Ambassadors were teaching new visitors to the track about all of the different aspects of horse racing and what to do while they were at the track.
We also had our Racing 101 booth set up; this is where ABR, along with the awesome folks at HorsePlayer Now and the Daily Racing Form, teach new fans how to bet and win. If you want to score money at the track and aren’t sure how, the men and women at the Racing 101 area will be happy to help you out!
At this point, I looked at my watch and realized that it was time for the stakes races to start – it’s almost scary how quickly time flies at a Triple Crown event! The first stakes race of the afternoon was the Easy Goer, named for the 1989 winner of the Belmont Stakes. The Easy Goer is a 1 1/16 mile race for three-year-olds, and this year’s edition was won by a colt named Power Broker with jockey Rosie Napravnik aboard. Rosie is definitely a fan favorite, and with good reason: she’s one heck of a talented rider, and she finds her way to the Belmont winner’s circle very consistently.
Up next was the True North Handicap; this is a sprint race that’s ¾ of a mile over the main track for horses three years old and up. Owner Ahmed Zayat, a man who truly loves his Thoroughbreds, had two horses in the race and they finished first and second! That has to be a great feeling (and one that I’d like to experience firsthand someday if the fates are so kind.) Here’s Fast Bullet winning the race with Justin Philip in second place.
The next major race was the Just A Game – this was the test (aside from the Belmont, of course!) that I was most excited for on Saturday. It’s a race for fillies and mares (a mare being a female horse five years of age and up, and a filly is a female horse younger than five) going one mile on the grass, and this race was a doozy. There were six of the most talented turf females in the nation going head-to-head, and I was so excited to see the outcome. I love Mizdirection, who beat the boys in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint last year, but I was worried that the soft ground would hurt her chances. I also adore Stephanie’s Kitten, who is a beautiful, feminine filly with so much heart and will to win. Plus there was Better Lucky, Hungry Island, Centre Court, and Laugh Out Loud in there, who are all spectacularly talented.
As I feared, Mizdirection (who’s based in California) wasn’t too fond of the wet conditions on the grass, tiring after leading the field for most of the race. The game and gorgeous Stephanie’s Kitten stepped up to the plate, winning in style for her owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey, trainer Wayne Catalano and jockey John Velazquez. It was a tremendous race, and I’m so excited to see where these wonderful fillies and mares go during the summer months
Up next was the Woody Stephens, named for the Hall of Fame trainer that won a record five Belmont Stakes. This is a race for three-year-olds going seven furlongs (or 7/8 of a mile) on the dirt. This one went to Forty Tales with the red-hot Joel Rosario aboard for owner Perretti Racing Stable and trainer Todd Pletcher.
Oh, yeah, remember how I said that I was super excited for the Just A Game Stakes three paragraphs ago? Well, I was also really stoked for the next race on the card: the Woodford Reserve Manhattan. This race featured one of my favorite horses running right now: Point Of Entry. He and Wise Dan are considered to be the top Thoroughbreds competing on the grass in America right now, and I was so excited to see if “Poe” as he’s called around the barn could perform on Saturday. And did he ever! Point Of Entry fended off all challengers to win the race by a length and a half. I love this horse!
Here he is in the winner’s circle after the race – doesn’t he look proud of himself?
Then it was Belmont Stakes time! As the horses were in the paddock getting ready to hit the track, the sun emerged and we were bathed in a beautiful afternoon light. Sadly, it was the kind of light that messes with my camera, but it was pretty nonetheless!
As the horses paraded onto the track, “New York, New York” played and the crowd sang along with the iconic Sinatra song.
I headed to my spot in the photographers’ line, and was right there as the starting gate went to its position, honking merrily as fans cheered it along.
There were mounted police lining the turf course for the Belmont, and it was kind of funny to see these unflappable horses taking in the starting gate. If you look at their expressions, you can see that each and every one of them is going, “OK, I’ve seen fire, I’ve seen riots, but I’ve never seen THAT before!” You can see the officer on the far right giving his mount a reassuring pat in the face of the scary starting gate.
It was also really great to see the Assistant Starters - those people whose job it is to get the racehorses and jockeys in and out of the starting gate safely and efficiently - get cheered by the crowd. These folks literally put their lives on the line in each and every race to make sure that the horses and jockeys stay safe, and they deserve as much adulation as possible.
As race time got closer, a bunch of the jockeys not riding in the Belmont gathered in the winner’s circle to watch the big race.
And then it was time for the third jewel of the Triple Crown! It’s always such a huge rush to hear the clang of the starting gate as it opens and the roar of the crowd as the horses surge into the first turn of the race.
After a mile and a half, it was Palace Malice who proved to be the hero of the day, completing a thrilling Triple Crown year.
It was great to see Cot Campbell, the gentleman in the hat, enjoying such a prestigious win. He’s the man who essentially invented owning racehorses through partnerships, and he’s a legend in the sport.
And I always smile when jockey Mike Smith wins a big race. He always seems so thrilled with each and every victory, and his smile lights up the entire racetrack.
It was a jubilant winner’s circle following the race, with all of the Dogwood Stable partners celebrating their colt’s huge achievement.
For me, this marks the end of the first season of racing this year – our second season, the Championship season leading up to the Breeders’ Cup in November, kicks off in July; and I’m so excited to see how Orb, Oxbow, Palace Malice and all of the other talented three-year-olds stack up against older horses as 2013 progresses.
I’ll be sure to keep up my diaries as we enter into summer racing, and thank you all for visiting over this very exciting Triple Crown season! I hope you had as much fun as I did in the first half of the year, and remember: the best is yet to come!