The first thing I saw at Belmont Park was
the last thing that I saw. Pulling into the parking lot, the brick facade of
Belmont loomed with its ivy covered walls similar to Williams, Wesleyan or
Amherst. What a nice big place Belmont is. And I found that out looking for the
press office with my wife, niece and nephew following me.
First, I was
sent off like an errant boy. Upstairs, downstairs is more than a PBS show, it
was where I was sent every time I asked for help. Finally, I ran into Bret from
NYRA Marketing and Marketing Bret turned out to be a nice kid who should be
shaving by next year. He told me right where to go. And it’s not where you
think. He guided me right to where I needed to pick up my credentials. Thanks
Bret. Thanks Charlotte.
I blew through 30 bucks on the first
four races. But I didn’t care; I was falling for Belmont hard. Placing a 15 dollar bet on the Princess of Sylmar I ran, bad knees and all down to the paddock to meet HRN blogger, Matt Shifman
for the Beldame Stakes. The paddock was as quiet as a church if I remember
church correctly. The stillness made you remember that you were only a guest,
there were people working.
The Princess is a beautiful, chestnut filly and is the main reason I went all the way down to The Big Sandy. I’ve followed the Princess like an ex-boyfriend stalker. First in the Kentucky Oaks, Coaching Club American Oaks and witnessed her victory in the Alabama. Todd Pletcher saddled her and then she paced with a lead walker as if she was an expected father. I saw Todd P. call over Javier Castellano, giving him what I assume were instructions for the race. I really don’t think they were swapping I phone 5 apps. It hit me, I was standing in the locker room of horse racing and coaches were giving instructions to the team.
And then, from behind me, I heard my name called in a deep
baritone. Thinking I was found out and my dream day was cut short, I turned around
and saw Matt Shifman standing there. After exchanging pleasantries he led me to
a spot to watch the race. Trackside and standing dead even with the finish
line, was a nice spot to see my girl turn it on at the top of Belmont’s huge
stretch and cross the line in front of Royal Delta.
After the race Matt said, “Come on”. We walked out on to the
track, taking pictures with our phones and waiting to talk to someone. I saw
Mike Smith, the rider on Royal Delta and I asked him what happened as he walked
to the scales. “We got beat by a better horse today”, he said making eye
contact. And that said it all. The Princess was a better horse that day and I
was collecting a decent pile of money. Leaving the winning circle, I noticed
that I was walking next to Todd Pletcher. After a rather cliché question on my part, he
walked for a few yards before talking. “It’s feels pretty good beating a horse
the quality of Royal Delta, have a nice day” and he walked off. I don’t think
he cared if I had a nice day or not, but it was a nice way to end a
conversation I will say that.
Thanking Matt for showing me Nirvana and the ropes, I was
back off to the family waiting for the feature, the Jockey Club Gold Cup. I hit
a few horses and I lost a few, until Lil Mike came home with Big Blue Kitten on
his tail and giving me a nice exacta. Meanwhile my wife, Queen of the Show bet,
was raking in dimes like Grant took Richmond.
With it time for the big boys, the likes of Palace Malice,
Cross Traffic, Orb and Flat Out, I did the same thing as I did in the Beldame.
I placed a 15 dollar bet on Cross Traffic and headed downstairs to the paddock for the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Cross Traffic was already in lather. And it
worried me for a second but I brushed it off with a gamblers psyche.
I was certain that Cross Traffic was going to win and told
Matt, who I met at the rail again before the start of the race. Neither one of
us even imagined that Ron the Greek would run the race of his life. (Again?) All
I heard from Tom Durkin was that Cross Traffic was dead last and the next thing
I know is I’m asking Johnny Velazquez, what happened at the start? Talking as he walked quickly away Johnny said, “He
just buckled in the start, we got moving and he gave me a good trip considering…”
Proving once again, the more I know the worse off I am.
I walked back on to the track and looked up the length of the
front stretch. I was alone and I thought of Secretariat and the 31 length
victory and how impressive it really was. I thought of the champions that have clamored down this track to the
wire and the Triple Crown. I thought of those who didn’t make it as well. I was
on the field at Yankee Stadium as I explained it to my nephew Sean. And as he
pulled out of the parking area, I turned around and saw the sun setting on the
ivy and I hope it’s there in June when I go back.
~Johnnie Carrier is a freelance writer who thinks he may have
stumbled on to something good.