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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Cool things about Belmont Park

The Triple Crown Placards
The first time I was really starting to get into horse racing, the Space Gal and I were vacationing in Key West in June of 2004. We had taken the shuttle from our hotel (the Sheraton, maybe) down to Mile Marker 1 and we were going to find a bar to watch Smarty Jones' try for the Triple Crown. I didn't have a wager on the race and was just a casual fan, like those ones you know at the office, that follow the Triple Crown and that's it. I probably didn't even know at that point that the race was 1 1/2 miles long.

What I did know was that I was very excited to potentially see history. I don't think I watched the War Emblem or Funny Cide Triple Crown shots, but for some reason the little horse (maybe because he was from Philly - where my family has most of its roots) had me obsessed with watching the race. All afternoon I kept asking the Space Gal what time it was because we couldn't miss the race. I don't remember the name of the bar we were at, just that the owner/bartender was trying to convince us he came up with the "bucket of beer" concept. Whatever. Just give us a bucket of Buds and Bud Lights and turn on the race.

I remember a couple from Kentucky were watching with us (random meeting) and explaining the situation to us. I remember cheering on Smarty and having my heart race as he rounded the turn at the top of the stretch with a four length lead. Then I remember the moan of the crowd (it came right through the television) as Birdstone kept gaining on him before he flew by him in the final 50 yards. It was 26 years back then, but now it's 34 years since Affirmed won the Triple Crown. Since Smarty Jones' Belmont, I've attended five straight, this year will be No. 6. I've come to really appreciate Belmont Park as a race track and I've tried to see something new everytime I'm there.

So what makes it so cool...especially on Belmont Stakes Day?

1. The Triple Crown Placards. With a Triple Crown in play, they roll out the Placards of the silks of the 11 previous Triple Crown winners (see picture above). It's kind of spooky actually, since it's been so long and the connections have to see them out there all day long. I captured that picture on Belmont Stakes Day in 2008 when Big Brown made his attempt at joining the TC club.

2. The Backyard Bands. Last year, the Space Gal and I spent some time listening to some of the backyard banks and relaxed with a cocktail while watching one of the earlier stakes races on the big screens set up throughout the park section.

The Belmont Bands
3. The Belmont Win Photos. On the second floor of the clubhouse are the win photos of all of the Belmont Stakes. They are really cool to check out and take photos of the great winners of the race.

This one sounds familiar...
4. The Belmont Bling. They keep the trophies out (guarded) just outside of the winner's circle. In the photo below you can see the Triple Crown trophy (it's the triangular one).

Bling it...
5. Playing Stump the Guitarist. They have this guy...and if you stump him, you get a $2 betting voucher, how good is that!! It has to be a question on a Grade 1 (I think). Hint: 2006 is his Achilles Heel.

The Man, the Myth, the Legend

6. The Paddock Toteboard. It's a perfect spot to meet people, even if there's over 100K on hand. It also can come in handy if it's raining as you can stand under it.

7. The Belmont Barbershop. Need a trim before the race? Why not...

Note the Belmont Park cap!
8. Take the Train from Penn Station. If you're staying in Manhattan it makes all the sense in the world to head down to Penn Station and grab the Belmont Express. One pointer if you do: grab your tickets on Friday night so you avoid the inevitable line to purchase the tickets out of the machine. It lets you off right at the clubhouse entrance - it's a no-brainer to avoid the parking madness and having to drive out to the track.

Honorable Mention: 24 oz. Heinekens (enter at your own risk or I'll Have Another), Food Row (BBQ at its best), The Overall Largess of the Physical Plant and Secretariat Statue in the Paddock.

For those of us out-of-towners who don't frequent Belmont as much there is so much to see and I'm sure I've only touched a tip of the iceberg of the cool things about Belmont. 18 days and counting.



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