Jun 8 2013

Belmont Stakes Memories

Of all the Triple Crown races, I’ve been to the Belmont Stakes more than any other.  And I’ve seen it all.  My first was in 1991 when I witnessed Hansel hold off Strike The Gold in deep stretch to win by a head, and complete the Preakness-Belmont double.  And this completed my personal double of witnessing the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes in the same year.  The next year I saw A.P. Indy, with his notable head down running style, grind out a win over a hard-charging European horse.  Later that year A.P. Indy went on to win the Breeders Cup Classic, and was then retired to stud, where he went on to be a tremendous success, siring more than 140 Stakes winners.

In 1998 I returned to watch Real Quiet’s attempt to win the Triple Crown.  He went off the 4-5 favorite, and at the 1/8 pole he looked like a sure winner.  One furlong remained … one furlong to winning the Triple Crown and collecting a $5 million dollar bonus offered that year to any horse capable of winning the elusive Triple Crown.

After the race, the jockey of Real Quiet, Kent Desourmeaux was criticized by many for making a premature move with Real Quiet.  I’ve watched the replay of this race at least 20 times and I’m still on the fence on this critic.  A little more patience might have paid off late, but who can fault a man facing the opportunity of a lifetime from seizing the moment.  Here’s the video replay.  I promise you it is a thrilling finish.

In 2003 Funny Cide captured the imagination of many people here in upstate New York.  He was purchased for $75,000 by some local men in the Saratoga area before going on to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.  I had mixed emotions going into the Belmont Stakes.  Like many people I was ready for a Triple Crown winner, and I thought Funny Cide would make a great story.  He was sired (first crop) by Distorted Humor, who would go on to become (and still is) an incredibly successful sire.  But I felt that the trainer (Bobby Frankel) for Empire Maker (2nd in the Kentucky Derby) had made a shrewd move by skipping the Preakness and focusing on the Belmont Stakes.  It turned out to be a winning move, as he won the Belmont Stakes, denying another potential Triple Crown winner.

In 2004 I was back again, Smarty Jones was a 1-5 favorite and was a sure thing to end this Triple Crown drought that was now up to 25 years.  I bought a souvenir win ticket to bring home and frame after the coronation.  Me and 120,000 fans were ready.  We yelled when the gates opened, we cheered Smarty Jones to the lead at the top of the stretch, and then our jaws dropped and we collectively went silent as 36-1 Birdstone ran by him before the finish line.  Wow, I have never heard so little noise from so many people.  Truly memorable.

Colonial Affair

Colonial Affair

But my favorite recollection comes from 1993.  My wife and I talked her parents into loading up their RV and making a road trip to Long Island.  We stayed at a campground some thirty miles east of Belmont on Long Island.  The day of the big race, we had to navigate our way over to Belmont Park.  Little did we know you can’t drive an RV on many of the local roads due to height restrictions.  OMG is all I can say.  I’m sure we broke a few traffic laws, and cleared a couple of overpasses by only inches, but somehow we made it to the track.

Race day was wet and dreary.  Overall I wasn’t having a good day, but I was waiting for the Belmont Stakes.  I had been touting Colonial Affair all week to my friends.  I was confident his sire (Pleasant Colony) had passed on enough of his stamina genes to get him the 12 furlongs.  On board was Julie Krone, with a chance to become the first female jockey to win a triple crown race.  And the price was certainly right, he went off at 13-1.  Here is the video.  If you listen close you can here me shouting Julie’s name down the stretch.

A footnote to this story. It was raining pretty hard after the races concluded, and we had trouble starting our portable gas grill. So my friend Martin gets the bright idea to put the cover on and let some gas build up. Then he handed me the lighter. I singed my eyebrows on that stupid idea. Life lesson: You can get away with drinking and gambling, but never mix drinking and combustion.


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