For nearly four decades Ernie Munick has been giving his heart and mind to thoroughbred racing. He is a writer, a vlogger , a musician, but most devotedly a handicapper and horseplayer. He can be seen twice a week on the NYRA Network's RACEDAY, and his videos for the Breeders' Cup can be found by clicking here.
What can or cannot be brought within the beautiful confines of Belmont Park next Saturday has ignited somewhat of a firestorm in the social media. There are persuasive voices on all sides of the controversy, but, let's face it, the house rules must be obeyed. You can still have fun. Creative packing is key. Here is what I AM bringing, and what I am NOT bringing, to the 2013 Belmont Stakes.
AM: Antibacterial wipes. After a few hours at any racetrack in any season, you probably need to be hosed down. Small antibacterial wipes refresh the mind to peak alacrity, so you can bring down that $1 million guaranteed late Pick 4.
NOT: A mannequin. There is a deep, corrosive loneliness to handicapping that only the hardcore players can really understand. Dolls and mannequins are in the short run good company (I hear), but they are no replacement for human companionship or tomorrow's advance past performances. I am not bringing a mannequin.
AM: Portable charger. The charger is huge, figuratively speaking. In fact, it's the size of a lipstick. My iPhone, iPad and I will be there almost 12 hours. Wall sockets are scarce. I am definitely bringing a portable charger.
NOT: My own personal bugler. Some people suffer — I should speak for myself — I suffer from a rare disorder known as Nottatootaphobia, or fear of not hearing the Call to the Post. Having your own bugler would eliminate this unspeakable possibility. I love the bugle, the regal simplicity of the instrument, its longstanding tradition in our sport, and frankly, I'm tired of the jokes:
Q. What's the difference between a bugle and an onion?
A. No one cries when you chop up a bugle.
Belmont Park is the largest racetrack in these Unites States, and while there remain crannies, and even the occasional nook, in which you can't hear the bugler via speakers, I have learned where not to mill when there are 10 minutes till. I am not bringing my own personal bugler.
AM: Allergy ammo. Claritin pills, inhaler, tissues. Trees are the enemy. I will be mostly in the park. I am definitely bringing my allergy ammo.
NOT: Tap shoes. Sometimes you need to change the luck, and, from my years as a personal finger-snapper for Ben Vereen, I discovered that tap dancing within six feet of an IRS window brings incredibly good fortune. We must respect our fellow horseplayers, though, and some might get a wee bit irritated as they're communicating with mutuel clerks. I am not bringing tap shoes.
AM: Nature's Bounty B-12. These sublingual vitamins not only mellow my jangled nerves, but they're so yummy I can hardly limit myself to one. All day long I'm offering people B-12s, even strangers, try this, try this, etc. No one ever tries. In refusal they emanate stress. We need to chill. I am definitely bringing Nature's Bounty B-12s.
NOT: Amanda Bynes' trampoline. These Hollywood stars, pffft, too fancy schmancy for moi. What I look for in a trampoline are supersonic spring connectors, unbreakable rubber of the kind used by NASA and a bail-out safety net at least the size of Oklahoma (the training track, not the state, though either works for me). No matter how bored I am in that hour between Point of Entry's Woodford Reserve and the Belmont Stakes, I will not resort to eccentric celebrity behavior. I am not bringing Amanda Bynes' trampoline.
AM: Major cabbage. Moolah. On a banquet of a betting day, you don't want to be spotted without the Benjamins. And speaking of Benjamins, Franklin said, "He that goes a-borrowing goes a-sorrowing." He was right and wrong (grammatically). Who, Ben, not that. He who goes a-borrowing. I've been squirreling up the nuts for two weeks. I am bringing major cabbage.
NOT: A nail clipper. Have you ever found yourself in a quiet, blissful state of handicapping, only to have the near-silence ruined by that creep with the long fingernails, clipping away. If you're lucky, Freddy Kruger won't start on his toes. I'm sorry to report I've seen this. I am neither bringing nor using a nail clipper. Nor should anyone else.
AM: The Doctor's Brushpicks. I can't spend three hours tonguing between my molars. I might have eaten corn, or pork, and then I'm stuck. I am definitely bringing Grade I toothpicks, The Doctor's Brushpicks.
NOT: A garland of lilacs. Lilacs for centuries have been considered a bad omen, and, in garland form, forget it, even worse, nice knowing you. They have a very powerful scent, and the only reason you'd ever want to bring that garland to Belmont is to mask the aroma of that creep clipping his toenails. The Belmont Stakes Carnation Blanket is experience enough for yours truly. I am not bringing a garland of lilacs.
AM: Trip notes. Watching races is crucial. There is no true handicapping without replays. You watch, you jot trips. I often make a three-race betting commitment to a trip horse, unless he or she wins first. Guard your work; stolen trip notes can reveal a troubled, wounded psyche. I am definitely bringing my trip notes.
NOT: A pommel horse. This is a tough one. The temptation to bring a pommel horse will be overwhelming. I've been exercising lately, squats, cardio, planks (you're welcome), but nothing approaches the thrill of squat-jumping onto a pommel horse, hand-standing across the body, then dismounting into a full Tony Black split. But I need nothing to slow me from paddock to finish line between races. Unfortunately, I am not bringing a pommel horse.
AM: My Rags to Riches button. It's hard not to celebrate, yearly, the first Belmont Stakes-winning filly in 102 years. I am definitely bringing my Rags to Riches button.
NOT: Dr. Andrew Weil. One of the great pleasures of a day at the races is eating grease near a toteboard. Hot dogs, burgers, pizza, fried chicken. Now, do me a favor, try explaining this to Dr. Weil, Dr. "Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants." I'm not sure about this Weil. He's not all there. He's part Weil. I may have to lose that expression. Is Weil's the voice you want in your ear for such a monumental afternoon? I am certainly not bringing Dr. Andrew Weil.
AM: Clapton's Crossroads Collections, 1988, four discs to .mp4s in my iPhone. This is the desert island collection. Clapton's not my favorite artist but this collection encompasses most of the blues/rock styles I love. I am definitely bringing my 1988 Crossroads Collection.
NOT: A Western Screech Owl. Not on your shoulder, not in a cage, not in your Belmont Park cooler bag, nowhere. Like the lilacs, owls don't exactly exude good luck. If you see an owl, any owl, in the daytime, you might be cursed. But if you see a Western Screech Owl at a thoroughbred racetrack, you will go 13 years without making a withdrawal from your NYRA REWARDS account. I am totally not bringing a Western Screech Owl.