Those Ivy Covered Walls

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.  




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Older Comments about Those Ivy Covered Walls ...

Nice maiden blog Johnnie! I like, "... the more I know the worse off I am." I second matt's "Welcome to the HRN blog team."
Glad you had a great time, Johnnie ... Keep up the great work!
They should run Princess of Sylmar in the classic , She has beaten all the females lets see what she can do against the boys Maybe against 3yr old colts ,I bet she would hold up well
"And then, from behind me, I heard my name called in a deep baritone." Wow, thanks Johnnie I like that description, you left out nasal in your description of my voice. So, glad you had a great day because I sure did.
Best to get there early and put "4 corners" on your world to find out what is what. I would go into the clubhouse as it is much nicer and more to see there...Less riff raff and nutty inexperienced bettors
Hey Johnnie! I'll be there as well, I'm driving down from the Springfield Mass area! Hope we both have fun and strike it rich! ;)
Welcome aboard Johnnie! Personally, I'm on board with Orb. With a race under his belt after the brief freshening, he should be ready to roll.
Senior citizen discount eligible or not, it's good to have you on the team, Johnnie!
Welcome to the HRN blog team! I guess I'll see you at Belmont on Saturday.

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