By Howard Koplowitz
In recent years, the Belmont Stakes has been full of surprises and Saturday’s version was no exception.
Ice Box, the 2-1 favorite trained by Ozone Park resident Nick Zito, was a non-factor and finished eighth out of 12 horses in the in the 1 1/2-mile race, which was won by 13-1 longshot Drosselmeyer. First Dude, whose name was inspired by Sarah Palin, who called her husband the “first dude” of Alaska, was leading for nearly three-quarters of the race but finished third. His odds were at 7-2 for winning the race.
Another Zito-trained horse, Fly Down, finished better than expected in second place. His odds were 9-2.
A $2 Superfecta bet for correctly picking the first four horses in their exact finishes paid out $10,658.
With no chance of a Triple Crown winner and the two horses who won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes — Super Saver and Lookin at Lucky — withdrawing from the Belmont Stakes, the crowd of 45,243 was light for a track that can accommodate about 100,000 spectators.
The threat of rain may have affected attendance, but showers never came and patrons laid out in the sun in nearly 90-degree temperatures in the picnic area drinking alcohol and smoking cigars.
The New York Racing Association, which puts on the Belmont Stakes and other races at Belmont Park, Aqueduct Race Track and Saratoga Race Course, said the crowd bet nearly $7.6 million on Saturday’s races — a 15.6 percent drop from the nearly $9 million wagered in 2009.
But some in the crowd said they did not need a Triple Crown hopeful to enjoy the day.
“It’s a fun day. I’m not a hardcore gambler. I’m more about the atmosphere,” said Nicole Trivlis, 22, of Astoria.
Richard Strauss of Manhasset, L.I., said the smaller crowd made his experience more fun.
“This is about as light as it’s ever been. It’s more enjoyable, you can get a table and relax,” he said. “It has its charm for the Triple Crown, but it also has its charm now.”
Bettors had different theories for choosing their horses, from picking a trainer they like to the success of the jockey to the horse’s previous performance to its name.
Baldwin, L.I., resident Jock Jennings said he picked Drosselmeyer to win because he hated the name.
“Sometimes when you don’t like the name, it wins,” Jennings said.
Sitting in a shaded area, Mary Delay of Long Beach, L.I., said she went with Ice Box “because I wish I was sitting in one right now.”
Delay said part of the Belmont Stakes experience was admiring the fashions — seersucker suits for men and sundresses and straw hats on the women. Bow ties also seemed to be a popular trend, including ones worn with shorts.
“I tell you, these men in their seersuckers……,” Delay said before trailing off.
Drosselmeyer’s surprise win was among many in recent years at the Belmont Stakes.
Last year, Summer Bird, an 11-1 longshot, won the race.
In 2008, Big Brown was racing to become horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, but finished dead last. Da’Tara, a 39-1 longshot, won that year.
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4573.