by Brian Bohl
More than 90,000 people at Belmont Park and millions watching around the world were captivated by Justify as he entered the gate looking to make history in the 150th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 9.
Justify's bid to become just the 13th Triple Crown winner captured the sporting world's attention. But Caroline Wilson had more at stake in Justify's quest than anyone except possibly the horse's connections. A win for the undefeated Scat Daddy colt would earn Wilson an extra $150,000.
Wilson was the winner of the first-ever New York Racing Association's Belmont Stakes $150,000 Sweepstakes. By purchasing just one grandstand ticket to Belmont Stakes Day, the Astoria, Queens resident was automatically entered into the contest, where she was selected among a wide pool of 200,000 entries overall from approximately 40,000 individuals. Starting in March until the close of the entry window, each ticket purchased to the Belmont Stakes was automatically accompanied by one sweepstakes entry.
As the grand prize winner, Wilson and her three friends that included her roommate and best friend were treated to a VIP experience that included the exclusive Champagne Room before watching the "Test of the Champion" from box seats on Belmont's second floor. Prior to the race, Wilson made Justify her official selection, which earned her the $150,000 bonus when Justify went wire-to-wire to win the Belmont Stakes and become just the second Triple Crown winner since 1978.
"It was an amazing day and the whole VIP treatment and having our own tour guide would have made it a great day either way, but this was special. I was nervous because that's a lot of money on the line," Wilson said.
Once the Belmont Stakes field was finalized and Preakness contender Good Magic was not among the 10-horses entered, Wilson said her pick of Justify, who entered the Belmont Stakes 5-for-5 for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith, was the no-doubt selection.
"For the Preakness, it looked like Good Magic was pretty close behind him, but since he wasn't there [at Belmont], I wasn't really torn. I figured I'd go with Justify at that point," Wilson said. "In the stretch, I just kept yelling so loud."
Wilson, who worked as a costume assistant on the CBS show "Kevin Can Wait" before the network canceled the show, said she will be soon be working as a costume coordinator on NBC's long-running "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." The 27-year-old added that her once-in-a-lifetime experience during her first time at Belmont Park could also mean more trips to the racetrack in the future.
"It exceeded my expectations. I had only been to ballgames, but now that I've gone, I can definitely see myself getting into the sport more," Wilson said. "It was so much fun. Whenever there was a big race, just the tension in the air was high, and it [made] it fun to watch."
Wilson said her original plan was to attend Belmont Stakes Day with friends, and her purchase of a $20 general admission ticket set in motion a life-changing experience.
"We were going to go and experience it in the cheap seats just to see what it was like one time and just get a feel for it," Wilson said. "This was a much different experience. We would have had a lot of fun I'm sure, but this was great.
"My friends were really excited for me, and they loved dressing up and having steak and champagne," she added with a laugh. "My friends and I are always up for trying new adventures. Plus, we got to see history."
Wilson said she won't be rushing to return to the betting windows with her extra cash, but added that the winnings could eventually be part of a major purchase.
"I don't want to start spending that because it'll disappear, so I'm not going to touch it and I'll put it in a fund until I want to buy a house in a few years," she said.
NYRA Press Office