By Joseph Staszewski
Bobby Bocchimozzo was sure he’d see a Triple Crown winner after close to four decades of coming to the Belmont Stakes.
“It has to be,” the Flushing native said. “I think if it’s ever going to happen it’s going to happen today.”
He and his wife Chris drove all the way up from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. to attend the big race at Belmont Park. They joined 20 friends for a picnic near the duck pond before all eyes turned to the horse American Pharaoh.
Bocchimozzo—along with the other 90,000 people—got what he came for. American Pharaoh became the first horse to win a Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. He did so in a time of 2:26:65 to become the fifth wire-to-wire winner at the Belmont Stakes, beating second-place Frosted.
“It’s unbelievable,” American Pharaoh Jockey Victor Espinoza said. “At the wire, it was like, I can’t believe I did it.”
A crowd that included former President Bill Clinton and former Yankees manager Joe Torre was very much behind American Pharaoh. A number of spectators dressed up to show their support. Mike Kozin of Long Island City donned a pharaoh’s headdress with an American flag shirt. Chris Rinaldi of Westchester sported a full American flag suit and tie.
“People love this horse,” Rinaldi said. “Anyone is gonna love a winner and this is going be a winner.”
Added Kozin: “I always think it’s entertaining to go in costume.”
As much as people enjoyed the action on the track, there is always an eye for fashion at Belmont Park as well. Hat designer and former Flushing resident Ines Hernandez attends both the Belmont Stakes and Kentucky Derby regularly. In her opinion the crowd at the Kentucky Derby is more extravagantly dressed, but there is a special New York feel to the hometown crowd.
“I like to see all kind of hats and what is going on,” Hernandez said. “My husband loves to bet on horses so I come.”
Those heading to Belmont using mass transit were impressed with the ride in and the $4 million in renovations made by the MTA to Belmont Station. The trip was quick and made easier by a helpful staff.
“It was only one stop and it was fantastic,” Kew Gardens resident Andrew Panos said. “Last year it was miserable.”
He was one of the people who waited two and half hours to leave the park. Coming in was smooth sailing, but he planned on watching the Stakes race close to the exit in order to get a jump on getting home. Much of the crowd leaving the park by train dissipated around two hours after the race, with the Goo Goo Dolls giving a concert in the background.
The improved commute wasn’t the only reason that fans went home happy, however. There was a confidence in American Pharaoh that was fulfilled.
“This is the first one I feel can do it,” Panos said. “Last year I hoped it, this year I feel he can actually do it.”
American Pharaoh ensured that his belief was well placed.