Belmont Stakes Diaries: New York’s Biggest Day


Belmont Stakes Day dawned as a perfect New York summer day: the sun was shining, the morning was warm and clear, and I could not wait to get to the racetrack. My team and I met up near my apartment at about 8 a.m. and decided to split a taxi out to Belmont Park. Apparently, the taxi driver was as eager as we were to get there, because he ended up getting a speeding ticket while we were still in the borough of Manhattan. Let me tell you this, my friends: there is no silence as awkward as the one where you’re waiting out a speeding ticket with a complete stranger. I felt really badly for the guy, and I hope the fine wasn’t too painful.

Fortunately, we had few problems getting to the racetrack after that, and when I had arrived and got myself settled in the photographers’ room, I eagerly set out to see the fans here for the amazing day of racing ahead of us. And I was not disappointed! People were showing up in droves, and there were some amazing outfits on display by enthusiastic fans. I was especially obsessed with this guy:

That’s dedication! I think that he was probably the most photographed person at the Belmont Stakes, and I’m not forgetting that LL Cool J was there.

I also spotted these awesome gentlemen; I loved their bold pants!

And Christian Helmers, one of the stars of Esquire TV’s reality show “Horseplayers” was all chromed out for the Belmont Stakes, too.

I also saw tons of less flashy but absolutely stunningly dressed fans; New York really brought its A-game to the races on Saturday, and I loved seeing everyone’s best fashion.

Even the horses were getting into the style game – I love these pom-poms!

I also saw this artist creating an amazing oil painting in the paddock. As someone who can’t draw a recognizable stick figure, I was blown away by her skill and the speed at which she worked. What an amazing talent!

One of my favorite moments of the morning was finding the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance’s photo booth. For a small donation that benefitted retired racehorses, fans could get a picture of themselves riding California Chrome through the magic of Photoshop. It was an absolutely wonderful promotion for a great cause, and the photo booth became one of the hotspots at the track all afternoon.

Obviously, I had to get in on the action. It was too cool to resist!

I think the sneakers really add that extra bit of sophistication, don’t you?

As the morning continued, fans poured into the track. The Long Island Rail Road has a station right at Belmont Park, and it was clear that New Yorkers were utilizing it in full force.

By 11:35, which is when the first race went off, the Grandstand was already packed and fans cheered horses home in the contest that kicked off an amazing day of Thoroughbred action. Seriously: this card was so outstanding that I took to calling it the “Baby Breeders’ Cup” because it was second in quality only to Thoroughbred racing’s annual two-day World Championship meet.

Before I knew it, it was time for the first major race of the day: the Easy Goer. This is a test for three-year-olds travelling a mile and a sixteenth, and I was delighted to see Kid Cruz win it. He’s a gutsy horse with great human connections, and it was great to see him have such a commanding victory.

Up next was the Brooklyn Invitational. This race comes with a half-million dollar purse, and a seriously talented field was lined up to vie for the lucrative prize. Norumbega, a beautiful gray horse, edged out the competition; I’m a sucker for a gray, so I was very pleased with the result!

The Jaipur Invitational followed the Brooklyn, and this was another race that was a stiff competition. Nine horses were lined up to duke it out over ¾ of a mile on the grass, but in the end it was Undrafted who brought home the bacon. That horse belongs to football hero Wes Welker, which is a very cool cross-sports victory!

He’s also just a stunning horse, and he made the win look easy. Wes Welker is going to keep having a lot of fun with this horse!

Up next was the Woody Stephen Stakes. This race is a seven furlong (or 7/8 of a mile) test for three-year-old horses competing for a $500,000 purse. Although there were 13 very talented Thoroughbreds in the field, Bayern (who last ran in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes) left them all in his dust, winning with ease.

After the Woody Stephens, it was time for the afternoon’s Grade 1 races to begin. In the ranking of horse races, it’s the Grade 1s that are the toughest competition; so I was extremely excited to see all six of them today.

The first Grade one of the afternoon was the Acorn Stakes. This race is the female equivalent to the Belmont Stakes, meaning that it is restricted to three-year-old fillies. Thirteen fillies were lined up to compete, and I was more than eager to see who would come out on top to claim the $750,000 prize. To my delight, it was Sweet Reason who took the Acorn Stakes. Her trainer Leah Gyarmati has done an amazing job with this filly, and Sweet Reason was definitely considered an underdog in this race. As she crossed under the finish line, her jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. pumped his fist in celebration.

I couldn’t resist making a .gif from the series of photos I took of Sweet Reason’s assistant trainer. He was just so happy! I think it just perfectly captures how it feels to win a race with a horse you love:

Seriously, the joy on the faces of Team Sweet Reason was wonderful to see:

And as Sweet Reason was reunited with her handlers, she got pats from all of the people around her. It was a wonderful moment.

Up next was the race I was most looking forward to aside from the Belmont Stakes: the Ogden Phipps. This 1 1/16 mile test is for fillies four years old and up, and this year’s edition had attracted some of the best female horses in the nation. Heroes Princess of Sylmar, Close Hatches, and Beholder were all entered, and for the life of me I couldn’t chose a favorite amongst them.

I definitely wasn’t the only one excited for this race: the crowd around the paddock was massive.

And fans were treated to a spectacular finish in the Ogden Phipps, with only a head separating winner Close Hatches and runner-up Princess of Sylmar; third-place longshot Antipathy was only a neck behind, and Beholder finished fourth just ¾ of a length behind her. It was a testament to the quality of the field that there was so little difference separating the top four finishers.

The next Grade I was the Longines Just A Game Stakes for female horses four years old and up going a mile on the turf. I kicked myself for not betting on Coffee Clique: not only had I seen her win on Kentucky Derby day, but I’m also a huge coffee fan! Since she paid $11.60 for a $2 win bet, I’m still a little sore about it. That having been said, she was very impressive in victory and I can’t wait to see what she does in the second half of 2014!

The Metropolitan Handicap (known in racing circles as the Met Mile) was another just tremendous race. The field included hometown hero Palace Malice (winner of last year’s Belmont Stakes) as well as 2013 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Goldencents. Today was Palace Malice’s day, and the four-year-old star absolutely demolished the talented field.

I always love seeing Dogwood Stables head Cot Campbell win a race – the man may have the best smile in all of horse racing!

(Mr. Campbell is on the right wearing the hat.)

There was a brief interlude then in which fans were treated to a song from the hit Broadway musical “Wicked.” As fans cheered, vocalist Dee Roscioli took the stage and did a stunning performance from the play.

The final race before the Belmont Stakes was the Knob Creek Manhattan. This 1 ¼ mile turf test is for four-year-olds and up, and as I walked over to the grass course I was blown away by the sheer amount of people in attendance.

And as the race was off, the roar from the crowd was tremendous; but it was nothing compared to the riot of sound that swelled as the horses turned for home and swept to the finish line. In the end it was Real Solution who took home bragging rights and the winner’s share of a cool $1 million purse.

Needless to say, his owner Ken Ramsey and his family were tickled by the win!

There was an hour scheduled between the Manhattan and the Belmont Stakes, and that’s when fans were treated to a concert by LL Cool J. Fans went nuts, and LL (can I call him LL? Sure, why not.) was clearly having a blast.

Even the pony riders were jamming out!

After the concert, I had to boogie to the paddock to take in the scene there in the minutes leading up to the Belmont Stakes. The paddock is the place where the horses are saddled before the race, and it was mobbed before the Belmont Stakes. Everyone wanted to catch a glimpse of Triple Crown hopeful California Chrome, and the level of excitement and tension in the air was palpable.

As the jockeys emerged to meet up with their horses and get final instructions from their trainers, cheers rose from the crowd – especially as California Chrome’s rider Victor Espinoza arrived.

Then it was time; the horses made their way to the track as fans yelled their support and jockeys put their game faces on.

While the horses warmed up before the race, the starting gate made its way to its position, honking merrily to fans all the while.

And, finally, it was time to find out if we would see only the 12th Triple Crown win in history. As the gates opened and the contenders sprung out, the crowd was on its feet giving out a deafening roar.
But sadly this year the Triple Crown was not meant to be: after running a very good race and in spite of incurring a minor injury to his heel at the start of the race, California Chrome finished a brave fourth with Tonalist taking home the Belmont Stakes win. While I was disappointed that Chrome lost, Tonalist was gallant in victory and was the first horse since 1992 to win both the Peter Pan Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. It was a huge achievement for him; and if Chrome had to lose, I’m glad it was to connections as wonderful as Tonalist’s trainer Christophe Clement, owner Bob Evans and jockey Joel Rosario.

What a wild and crazy, fun and fantastic Triple Crown season this has been. Thank you for joining me throughout all of the mania, and I’ll be back later on this summer as we kick off the road to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships! In the meantime, hit me up in the comments and let me know what your favorite part of Belmont Stakes Day was.