Racing history is made at the 150th Belmont stakes

The races – where the beautiful people go to get ugly. It’s never been truer than at the Annual Belmont Stakes and in its 150th iteration, the crowd is better looking and the worst behaved the track has probably ever seen. And by track we mean the train there.

This section is a cautionary tale, so feel free to skip ahead

The main access to Belmont Park is via the Long Island Railroad (especially if you’re one of the 90% who have come to binge and blow their hard-earned on the gee-gees) and with it one of their biggest days of the year, surely they’re prepared for the influx of thousands. Right?

Arriving at Jamaica Station, the platform is already overcrowded and announcements are being made over the public address system that there are power problems on the city side and signal problems in the direction of the races. Departure boards fluctuate with guesstimates as to when the train will actually turn up. Meanwhile on the platform, twenty-somethings relentlessly hammer back tall cans of beer or Smirnoff Ice premixes. Young ladies in heels fall like wounded gazelles and the amount of bad flannel suits and cheap fedoras show that you can’t buy class.

Twenty five minutes late, it pulls in to euphoric cheers. The crowd surges like a music festival mosh pit and it’s packed like sardines. The doors jam everyone in tight and in the first minute there’s ten people in line for the one already overflowing toilet – all those tallboy cans have to go somewhere.

The clock is ticking and we can’t move – up the aisle or collectively as a train. It’s stuck in the station for what will become an hour and twenty of projectile vomiting, shrieking, peeing in the aisle and hammering on the windows trying to get the attention of station staff to let people off. It’s Dante meets Bruegel, descending into a flannel and Smirnoff drenched hell.

Finally the doors are released and a mass of heaving (literally), seething white privilege surges out onto the platform, frantically seeking safety and security in an Uber booking. Just happy to finally get a seat, we wait another twenty minutes before the train starts moving, only to stop for another twenty at the next station.

We made it!

Once at the races, things are looking up. It’s fast access through security to the crowded back paddock area where us plebs have paid $30 for access to bookies, screens, food trucks and $13 beers (ouch). Belmont Park feels very much like any classic racecourse.

The main grandstand buildings date back to the early 1900s and are red brick covered by thick ivy. There are plenty of trees to provide shade and we have easy access to the marshaling area to see the jockeys formally mount their fine steeds.

The drinks are flowing as thick as the purple pall of cigar smoke which seems the smoking implement of choice today. So much for getting some fresh air away from the Big Smoke. Many in the crowd wear bright yellow foam crowns, a fun piece of merchandising to celebrate what we’re all here for – history in the making as Justify competes for the triple crown – a relatively rare occasion, which when coupled with the 150th festivities explains the massive crowds.

There are thirteen races over the course of the day, interspersed with live entertainment. We manage to catch the historic flyover, where two modern fighter jets accompany a P51 mustang on a flight over Long Island; the four main cast members from Broadway musical, a Bronx Tale do a song and dance number; five skydivers perform aerial antics before landing in the center field and after it all, nineties rockers, Third Eye Blind take the stage.

Bet’s are placed

As we prepare for the big race

Race eleven is the reason we’re all here. It’s Justify’s big chance to create racing history. We line up near the stables as horse and jockey reunite and ride a couple of warm up turns with the other competitors. It’s a media circus on the lawn as cameras and reporters interview trainer, owners and family members – a contingent of over one hundred very well-to-do-looking old money types.

And they’re off

Watching the horses and jockeys, escorted by rather regal stewards with Pom Poms on their helmets, the crowd stirs with excitement. In one and a half miles, lives will be changed and history made. Following fifteen minutes to get the horses loaded in the gates, Justify launches out like a bull in a china shop taking the lead by the first term.

 

Normally a concern, most early leaders fade, but without a flinch, the winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes maintains a couple of lengths ahead of the pack for most of the race. The excitement peaks as they round the bend and it’s Justify in the lead, followed by Gronkowski. And that’s how it stays as they fly past the post. Yellow foam crowns are thrown aloft, glasses are clinked and beers spilled all over flannel jackets. Most of New York has money on Justify – including us (though we would have done better to have Gronkowski for a place rather than a win).

The crowd immediately evaporates from the VIP section, giving us track side access to watch the presentation. It’s been a historic moment and we’re six beers down and $18 up!

Finally, as the last races are run and bars are drunk dry, we finish the night checking out nineties hit makers Third Eye Blind. We’re tired, the crowd is blind drunk and we’ve witnessed a little bit of racing history. it’s time to lick our wounds, cut our losses and return home with our financial tails between our legs.

 

WHAT?

The Belmont Stakes are New York’s biggest annual horse race.

WHERE?

2150 Hempstead Turnpike, Elmont, NY 11003

HOW?

Take the F train to 169th street or 179th street then take the N6 or the Q2 bus to Belmont or take the E train to Jamaica Center (Parsons Blvd.) and then take the Q110 bus to Belmont. Avoid taking the Long Island Railroad at all costs!

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