I’m not one of those New Yorkers who thinks that our city is the center of universe and that there’s nowhere better than here. There’s a lot to love about New York; there’s also a lot that’s maddening, if not exasperating, if not infuriating.
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.
There are certain New York things that I love with an almost unreasoning affection. I love coffee from the carts on the street. I love the Empire State Building when it’s red and green at Christmas time. I love walking over the Brooklyn Bridge. I love the subway.
And I love the Belmont. I know that its success and its relevance often depend on the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, and lacking a potential Triple Crown winner, it can be something of an afterthought in a Triple Crown season, its winners dismissed as the best of what’s left of the 3-year-olds after a rigorous six months of racing.
So when I’ll Have Another was scratched on Friday morning, after we had been assured that the horse would be OK, I thought...It’s OK. It’s still Belmont day. It’s still going to be great.
But what if it weren’t? What if nobody came? What if everyone were too disappointed to enjoy themselves? What if, as the forecasters suddenly started saying, it rained all day?
But they did come, and they did enjoy themselves. All of those people who scrambled to buy tickets to try to see a Triple Crown winner decided to come anyway (or gave or sold their tickets to people who wanted to be there), and they cheered and bet and ate and drank their way through 13 races, through clouds and sunshine and only a few, a very few drops of rain.
By the time the Belmont rolled around, while it might not have been exactly OK that they weren’t going to see a horse try to win the Triple Crown, they seemed to have made peace with that reality and given themselves over to the thrill of the race itself.
I sat with my brother and our friends for the race, and in front of me, middle-aged men and women formed a kick line during “New York, New York,” moving to the sound of the thousands around us singing as the horses came on to the track. And yeah, I got goose bumps, because it was one of those perfect New York moments, and one that we get only once a year.
And when it was over, it was Union Rags, who romped over this track last fall in the Champagne. We learned his story – that his owner sold him, then dreamt about him, then bought him back, for a lot more money. We watched him flounder this spring…and on Saturday, we watched him squeeze through an impossibly small hole, guided by John Velazquez, one of New York’s own, who will go into the Hall of Fame this year.
This year’s Belmont Stakes wasn’t we thought, or hoped, it would be. But by Saturday night, by the time Phyllis Wyeth had sped down the ramp to the winner’s circle in her wheelchair, by the time she clutched the Belmont Stakes trophy with Michael Matz, by the time Velazquez had explained one more time how he and Union Rags made it through that little space on the rail…we had another day of Belmont Stakes memories, a day of speed and class and redemption and a dream come true, a day when it was maybe OK to think that at least for a little while, New York was the center of the (racing) universe.