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.
It's getting closer, and as I write this, we still don't know if we'll have a Triple Crown try on Belmont Stakes Day. Nonetheless, let's not get ahead of ourselves (Todd Pletcher going for racing immortality with Super Saver on June 5 with 120,000 fans packed into the joint -- wait! Wait!).
Anyhow, back to 2003, the year New York's Funny Cide came into the Belmont Stakes after winning the Derby and the Preakness and with a chance to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. Three weeks talking to sometimes cranky, sometime irritable, but usually amusing trainer Barclay Tagg was one thing. But getting to the track that day was a whole lot of fun.. With a view of the track from my front yard (I know, that's pretty cool), the decision was made to take the NYRA shuttle from the back parking lot to the front of the track. Never did it before. So when I walked through the Mayfair Avenue gate, there was a long line of yellow school buses, with dozens upon dozens of fans waiting to pile in. Briefcase, computer in hand, and a little overdressed for this crowd, I stepped up onto the bus, and figured I'd make believe I was one of the Sackatoga gang, led by Jack Knowlton, who owned Funny Cide. The guys made the yellow school bus famous by taking one to Churchill Downs the day of the Derby. And the Preakness. And they did it again at the Belmont.. But this was me in a yellow school bus with many already inebriated people (OK, the Sackatoga people probably were, too, but in their private bus).
I sat down, the bus revved up and made the short drive around the track and about the 3/8ths pole, I pretended I was Funny Cide and I was in the lead and wasn't going to blow it like some many others who have tried and failed to get the 1 1/2 miles. C'mon bus, keep on movin', the other buses are closing in! Well, it went on like that in my mind for the next 45 seconds, and lo and behold, the bus was not passed and I considered this a sign that I would witness a Triple Crown. About eight hours later, Funny Cide didn't take to the track, made a brief run at the lead and faded back in the pack, leaving me and 100-plus thousand fans very unhappy.
Then again, at least I had a winning ride in a yellow school bus.