By Laura Amato
At this year’s Belmont Stakes, crowning a new Triple Crown winner was not an option.
Nyquist, the Kentucky Derby winner and early favorite to clinch the Triple Crown, didn’t even make the trip to the Belmont Park after falling in the Preakness.
But that didn’t stop people from coming out in droves Saturday, dressed to the nines and anxious to get in on the track action.
For them, the Belmont isn’t just about the race—it’s an event in its own right.
“I came to the Belmont because it’s the best race in the Triple Crown,” Bayside native Zachary Thompson said. “I’ve been to the Kentucky Derby, I go to the Preakness every year, but this is the cleanest, best race. It’s just a really nice day. Good racing, good family time. It’s awesome.”
Of course, last year’s Belmont boasted a crowd of over 90,000 people, all determined to witness history happen in front of them. This year’s slate of races didn’t promise the same moment, but it still offered many of those coming out the chance to have their first experience at the track.
In fact, after last year’s dramatic day, even more people were interested in taking in the races and many made it a full-day event.
“This is my first year coming and I thought it’d be fun,” said Abel Vigo of Howard Beach, who came with a group of friends. “It’s been a lot of fun so far. It’s always been on a bit of a to-do list that I’ve had and I’m crossing it off the to-do list.”
While there might not have been the possibility of history-making races, Belmont spectators still headed to the betting window in droves.
And each of them brought their own approach.
Vigo and his friends, some of whom traveled to the track from Connecticut, donned mail-order horse-head hats. They garnered a fair bit of attention.
“We came out three years ago for California Chrome, which is why I’ve got STUD on my hat,” Darren Metzger, of Stamford, Conn., said. “The hats came from a catalogue and we’ve worn them for the last three years. They’re certainly an attention-getter. They do give some good luck too.”
Thompson, meanwhile, went for a different approach at the window. He didn’t put any money on pre-race favorite Exaggerator. Instead, he opted for a different rationale.
“I love a horse coming off a layoff,” he said. “I look for those guys that haven’t been seen in the racetrack in six or seven months. I always wonder why the owner brought them here and I go with them.”
In the end, Creator won the Belmont Stakes in a dramatic photo-finish.
It didn’t really matter to the people in the stands. They were happy to see a good race, but, in the end, that wasn’t why they came to Belmont.
They came for the pomp, for the circumstance and for the over-the-top hats. For some it’s tradition. For others, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime day.
In the simplest of terms, it’s just fun.
“A day at the races with our buddies, you can’t beat it,” Floral Park native Rich Rizzuto said. “It’s a New York crowd. It’s great to see all the young people come out too. Maybe it’ll start another generation of horse racing fans.”