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Teresa Genaro is a high school English teacher and freelance turf writer whose work has appeared in a variety of turf publications. A former and erstwhile resident of Saratoga Springs, she lives in Brooklyn and writes about New York racing at Brooklyn Backstretch.

My First Time

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Until not all that long ago, I thought that all race tracks were like Saratoga:  intimate, cozy, comforting.  I was spoiled, having grown up in Saratoga, and having virtually my entire race track experience shaped by the Spa's wooden clubhouse, its familiar atmosphere, its happy crowds.

And then, early in this century, I went to Belmont for the first time, and it was awe at first sight.  As my father said last summer, returning to Belmont Park after nearly forty years, “It’s so…big.”  Not a lot of coziness to be found at Big Sandy, unless you count maybe the paddock.  Instead, you find majesty.  It makes that it's the setting for the race that wins a Triple Crown--an awesome setting for an awesome accomplishment. 

In May of 2004—I got a call from my brother.  “We ended up with an extra ticket to the Belmont,” he said.  “Wanna come?”

It was the year of Smarty Jones:  a Triple Crown was on the line, and I was offered a ticket to the biggest race of the year.  Of course I wanna come…but that year, the Belmont fell on Prom Night.

As a full-time educator who works primarily with the senior class, attendance at the prom is among my annual responsibilities.  No way would I get home from Belmont in time to make it…so I was granted special dispensation to make a late, unfashionable arrival.

Naively believing that the train to Belmont would be my best bet, I packed my prom clothes into a bag and headed east from Brooklyn, planning to get changed, jump on the train, and make it to the prom while the dancing was still going on…with memories of a Triple Crown winner doing their own dancing in my head.

The day didn’t go quite as planned; the 120,000 who packed the place made even Belmont’s magnitude seem small; Smarty Jones lost; I picked the wrong horse to box with him in an exacta; and the train was not, shall we say, the most expedient option for getting home.

(An aside:  Minutes before the race, novice handicapper that I was—OK, still am—I asked a friend what criteria he used when he was deciding between two horses.  “Which trainer do you like better?” he asked.  “Frankel or Zito?”  I picked Frankel—unthinkable to me now.)

Having ditched my race track clothes and donned my prom attire in the third floor women’s bathroom, I dashed to the end of the grandstand—or as close to it as I could get before I was stopped by a wall of thousands of people, all waiting for the next train out of Belmont.  Or the one after that.  Or the one after that.

In the absence of other options, my brother came to the rescue, dropping me off at an empty Shea Stadium so that I could run around the parking lot—in heels—and catch the 7 train back to Manhattan, hoping to make it to the prom before it ended.

I didn’t make the prom, but I have made every Belmont Stakes since that one, with far happier transport and wagering results.  I’m looking forward to writing about this great race and other Belmont goings-on over the next six weeks; upcoming posts will include stories on the horses, trainers, and owners pointing towards the Belmont; the history and notable past runnings of the race; and commentary on New York racing stories.  Fortunately, this year’s prom happens the week before the Big Race…

Comments :

  • Teresa | May 26 2009 08:16 PM

    Marcelo: sorry that it's taken me a few days to respond to this. I generally drive and have a fairly easy time getting in and out of the lot, but I get there early and leave on the late side. The train is pretty much hassle-free and a far speedier trip into Manhattan than driving is. It will all depend on the crowd. Keep in mind that there were 120,000 people at Belmont for Smarty Jones--I don't imagine that they'll have quite the same crowd this year, which will make all kinds of transport much easier.

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  • Marcelo | May 21 2009 03:19 PM

    Hi Teresa, Great story. I am going to the Belmont Stakes this year and I was thinking of taking the train, but I am sensing that it's not a good idea after what I've read here. Is it better to drive to Belmont? I also heard that getting in and out of the parking lot is a nightmare. Any insight would be appreciated. Thanks!

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  • Teresa | May 10 2009 05:31 PM

    Thanks for checking in and breaking in the comments section of! Keith--I'll probably be there this weekend, so let's catch up. Will be a little different from frigid Aqueduct. Frank--I remember 2004, with 120,000 on hand, both exciting and difficult. Long lines, HUGE crowd, many inside because of the threat of rain. I found 2008 way more manageable in terms of the lines. Glad to know that you're coming back!

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  • Keith - Triple Dead Heat | May 10 2009 09:59 AM

    Great story Teresa. No one can fault you for taking the chance to watch a triple crown happen...that would be akin to leaving in the seventh inning of a no-hitter or exiting MSG during triple overtime with the Stanley Cup on the line! I'll be making my first trip to Belmont next week and hope to start my own version of Belmont Park memories. Cheers Keith

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  • Frank J. | May 08 2009 09:01 AM

    Teresa, Hi, my name is Frank Jones and I'm from Wilkes-Barre, Pa. I enjoyed your blog regarding the 2004 Belmont. My first trip to Belmont was also 2004, when while watching Smarty romp in the Preakness my friends yelling back to me "WE'RE GOING TO BELMONT!!!". We ended up going again last year but let me just say that 2004 was a WAY better trip then last year. No beer inside, long lines for betting, bathrooms and food. Crappy ass beer for 9$ a pop. Just wasn't the same as in 04. Anyways, it's just me and the wife this year, and Triple Crown or not we're gonna have a good time as always. We stay right near the track at the HOJO in Jamaica Queens. Oh and we are harness fans also, we live right by Pocono Downs and we try to hit there every Saturday.

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