By Kelsey Durham
Even though Belmont favorite California Chrome fell short of the coveted Triple Crown last week, the hundreds of thousands of racing fans who turned out to witness the historic opportunity were treated to plenty of fun.
A crowd of more than 100,000 spectators made their way to the track in Elmont, L.I., Saturday to take in the 146th Annual Belmont Stakes, enjoying food, drink and plenty of nice weather as they watched the 13 races that took place that day.
Despite failing to see the first Triple Crown in 36 years, with California Chrome finishing in a tie for fourth place, the audience remained in high spirits.
Karen Zirkle, a Connecticut resident who was taking in her first Belmont experience, said she was just happy to be a part of the crowd.
“It’s a chance to see history,” she said. “The energy is so fun. It’s just America’s culture.”
Many racing fans who were there to root for California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid held up signs reading “Triple Chrome,” and the more dedicated fans even donned nasal strips to resemble the one the horse has been known to wear.
As the 6:52 p.m. start time of the Belmont Stakes — the 11th race of that day — crept closer, the crowd began to fill in behind the fence separating them from the track. Once the horses thundered out of the gates, fans battled for the best view of the contenders as they came around to the finish line.
Many fans held cellphones in the air, taking photos and recording video of the race as they cheered on the animals.
Even after California Chrome came in a few spots behind first-place finisher Tonalist, the crowd cheered and continued to celebrate the day throughout the two remaining races.
“It’s just fun to hang around all the people,” said Julia Paglierani, another first-time attendee of the annual event. Paglierani said before the race it would have been crazy if California Chrome had been able to win the Triple Crown, but she, along with much of the crowd, was not disappointed by the way the day turned out.
The one blemish the day did deliver was the monumental transit problems thousands of fans experienced during their commute home whether in traffic or while waiting for trains.
Spectators who relied on the Long Island Rail Road reported standing in line for more than two hours, even while police shut down trains for a portion of the night, while drivers waited two to three hours to make it out of the parking lots.
Fans later criticized the LIRR for urging people planning to go to the race to take public transportation but failing to keep up with the increase in riders. The LIRR said afterward that the transit agency added 14 trains on top of the regularly scheduled 38, but the increase fell far short of the number of fans hoping to catch a train home.
Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at [email protected].