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.
As I write this, the countdown clock on this website tells me there are 44 days, 3 hours and 12 minutes until the horses load into the gate for the 143rd running of the Belmont Stakes. It doesn’t seem like such a long time, but when you think that just 45 days ago Belmont Park looked like this …
.. you know a lot can happen. Last year at this time, Drosselmeyer was a relative unknown, boasting one maiden win, one allowance win, and a third-place finish in the Louisiana Derby, his only stakes start. Two years ago in April, Summer Bird had only a maiden win on his resume, as did Da’ Tara the previous year. And in late April of 2007, who would have thought a filly would set the “Test of the Champion” on its ear?
According to pundits, this year’s Kentucky Derby picture is as murky as it gets. With one hopeful after another stepping off the Derby trail, it seems to be anyone’s race and talk of a Triple Crown seems very premature, if not downright outlandish.
But this year, like every year, as racing returns to Belmont Park after another hard winter, we hope. Someone will win the Derby, and we hope it will be a horse good enough to win the Preakness, and we hope against hope there will be a horse great enough to join the ranks of Whirlaway and Seattle Slew and Gallant Fox and the eight others who swept the series.
Two days before the meet begins, the paddock at Belmont Park is empty save for the newly planted flowers and the great bronze statue of Secretariat. Thirty-eight years ago, Big Red broke a 25-year Triple Crown drought; today, that drought stretches back 33 years to Affirmed. But even as the workmen hustle to ready this great arena for opening day, Secretariat’s statue gleams anew under a warm spring sun, the rigors of the winter buffed away as he stands silently, a reminder of the glory that awaits the next champion.