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.
It’s June 9th, 2007—Belmont eve. And I am puking my guts out.
Flu? Something I ate? I have no idea. I know only that it’s Friday evening, and the Belmont is tomorrow, and I am sick as a dog.
I run down the street for Pepto-Bismol, and it not only fails to make me better, it makes me worse. Moments after ingestion, not a trace remains in my stomach.
A friend is in town for the race. “Let’s watch a movie,” he suggests. “Maybe it will make you feel better.”
He chooses Borat. It not only fails to make things better, it makes them worse. Remember that naked fight scene? It brings on a wave of nausea so profound that I am virtually certain that I lose parts of internal organs after watching it.
Fitful sleep, and it’s Saturday morning. I talk to myself hopefully: “I feel better, right? I can do this, right? Once I get to the track, it will all be OK, right?”
Brooklyn to Belmont, and I’m hanging in there. I arrive hours early, and as my friends are sipping coffee and eating doughnuts, I am stretched out in the sunshine under the tote board next to the paddock. “If I just lie here,” I think, “I’ll be fine for post time.”
Every movement carries the threat of reverse peristalsis, and about an hour before post, I give in, making my way to the Belmont infirmary. I couldn’t find it again for any amount of money; it’s downstairs somewhere, hidden away, and somehow, after multiple stops for directions, I arrive.
As I wait for medical attention, Robby Albarado and Julien Leparoux walk in wearing bathrobes. I perk up momentarily.
The nurses and doctor are, it seems to me, at first skeptical; do they suspect that I’ve begun my Belmont reveling early, and that I’m already hungover? Quickly, though, suspicion gives away to sympathy, and I find myself in a darkened, quiet room, lying down with pillows and blanket. They bring me ginger ale and a banana (I have never gotten over the idea of a banana at Belmont—where did they find it?), and I sleep.
They check on me regularly, and I will never forget their kindness. “You can stay here and sleep some more if you like,” they tell me. “Are you sure you’re OK?” they ask. It’s clear that there’s not much they can do, and I head to my seat. My friends are solicitous, and one offers me bourbon. My literary self takes over: those Victorians were taking always taking a little brandy when illness came upon them. In the absence of brandy, surely bourbon would do? And if it doesn’t, maybe I’ll just care less that I feel awful?
My betting doesn’t help; I try to beat chalk, and when that fails, I give up on longshots. In the next race, the longshot that I like and don’t bet comes in.
And now it’s time for the Big Race. There’s Hard Spun and Curlin, but maybe, really, there’s only Rags to Riches. We’re standing on our seats, and as the horses pass in front of us at the eighth pole, she’s got her head her in front. I didn’t know until this moment how much I want her to win, and I am jumping up down on my seat—the immediate health danger is now a broken ankle, not an upset stomach—but we are too far up the stretch to know who won. Who got there first?
Moments later, we know: she did. It is indeed, as Tom Durkin put it, a filly in the Belmont, for only the third time, and illness and fatigue fall away, because I realize that I am seeing history, and I am so, so, so glad she won. As Joe Drape expressed it in the New York Times: “No matter which horse anyone here had bet on, it was clear in the final strides that the only payoff anyone wanted was to witness something they (sic) would not forget.”
Earlier that day, I thought that I just wanted to get through Belmont 2007 and forget about it as quickly as possible. But Drape was right: the filly winning the Belmont, the single most exciting sports moment at which I have been present, ensured that long after other Belmont memories have faded (OK, maybe not the jockeys in their bathrobes), I will never forget what I witnessed that day.