Jenny Kellner is an award-winning journalist and educator who has written about horse racing for more than 20 years. She has been a media specialist with NYRA for the past four years.
Was I complaining about the weather yesterday? Belmont Stakes Day will dawn sunny and warm and turn even more glorious, but this morning it was wetter than Thursday. Take it from me -- you haven’t truly experienced the backstretch until you’ve stepped in a puddle next to a muck pit and sunk in up to your ankle.
Now, jockeys are smart. While the Belmont contenders were all splashing through the slop over the main track with their exercise riders aboard, inside the Belmont Café, next to the table laden with piping hot coffee and juice and fresh muffins and donuts, Alan Garcia, Rajiv Maragh, Edgar Prado, John Velazquez and a couple of other riders were milling about with their agents and various trainers and owners, swapping tales and generally being social.
Off to one side were a pair of retired Hall of Famers, Angel Cordero Jr. and Jorge Velasquez, who between them rode in 34 Belmont Stakes and virtually ruled Belmont Park. They’re in their sixties but they act like they’re kids, still, giggling and chasing each other around the tables with cups of water.
“They’re like children,” sighed Prado, himself a Hall of Famer.
Later, I walk to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin’s barn, trying vainly to avoid the puddles which have now swelled to the size of small lakes. Inside, trainer Eoin Harty has accepted full responsibility for the continuing downpours.
“Retribution for my past sins,” he says.
A chestnut colt struts by, and McLaughlin points him out to Harty.
“You wanna see something? There goes the Tapit colt who was the sales-topper at Timonium.”
Harty is suitably impressed.
Suddenly, McLaughlin looks up and sees a red minivan with handicap plates pulling up, and ducks outside. The window is rolled down and it’s Ron Turcotte, who had the greatest thrill in the history of jockeydom by being aboard Secretariat in the 1973 Belmont Stakes. You remember, the one he won by 31 lengths?
“I had to stop by,” says Turcotte. “And wish you good luck tomorrow.”
Rain? What rain?