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California Chrome in the Belmont Stakes parade

California Chrome in the Belmont Stakes parade

A Few Words of Thanks to Tom Durkin

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Tom Durkin calls a turf race during the 2014 Saratoga meet. We’ll miss you!

Like many before and after me, I was romanced to the racetrack courtesy of Tom Durkin, who I heard call the first horse race I ever watched: the 2002 running of the Kentucky Derby, won by War Emblem.

"War Emblem is still there! War Emblem and he’s pulling away! He has another gear!"

"And at the top of the stretch, a filly is in front at the Belmont but Curlin is right there with her! These two in a battle of the sexes at the Belmont Stakes! It is Curlin on the inside, Rags to Riches on the outside! A desperate finish! Rags to Riches and Curlin! They’re coming down to the wire, it’s going to be very close! It’s going to be… a filly in the Belmont!”

"And Jerry Bailey calls on Cigar for everything he has!… And here he is the incomparable, invincible, unbeatable Cigar!”

Winter Memories is in the clear, coming like a gray bullet!… It was a gray blur in the stretch!”

"And Tiznow is battling on! The American Horse of the Year and the Arc winner are heads apart with a furlong to go in the Classic!… Tiznow fights on, here’s the wire! Desperately close! Tiznow wins it for America!”

It was a whirlwind year to be introduced to horse racing, with War Emblem’s near-miss of the Triple Crown and just before that, trading hands from U.S. ownership to Japan. But it would not be the last call of the Derby I would watch that was called by Tom. Funny Cide, Barbaro, Street Sense, Big Brown, Mine That Bird all come to mind. Hearing his voice over the loudspeaker at my first trip to Belmont Park really set the tone for me, like ‘wow, I really am here, and there’s Tom Durkin talking!’ Even though at that moment he was only reading the current list of scratches and track conditions, it was still enough to send a true fan into a tizzy. The emotion of the experience made me even more jealous of those who were able to hear his calls before War Emblem and all the ones I missed in between.

So from my first visit to Belmont in 2012 to my last day at the Saratoga meet yesterday, I’ve enjoyed nothing but Tom Durkin as my race caller when I go to the track. Aqueduct, Belmont, Saratoga… they will never be the same for me from this point on. Like the mighty Secretariat who graced all three NYRA ovals like he did, there will never be another like him.

In a cherished moment of wisdom, I close this post out with a heartfelt thank you to Tom and a reminder to all that everything is temporary.

Commissioner

Commissioner

Summer Stakes Schedule

I’m trying to catch Dayatthespa and Wise Dan for the first time this summer, so help me god!

Here are my tabbed trips to Belmont Park and Saratoga from now until September as I currently see it. Asterisks indicate I’m only a possible for that day:

  • June 7 - Belmont Stakes Day and holy crap is this day looking like the first half of the year’s Breeders’ Cup  (done)
  • July 5 - The Stars and Stripes Festival: Suburban, Belmont Oaks, Belmont Derby, etc.
  • July 18-20 - Saratoga’s opening weekend with the Diana Handicap, Sanford Stakes, Coaching Club American Oaks, Lucky Coin Stakes
  • August 2 - Whitney Handicap & many other major stakes
  • ***August 9 - Fourstardave (if Wise Dan shows)
  • August 14-17 - Alabama/Sword Dancer weekend aka Dawna’s 25th birthday extravaganza at Saratoga
  • ***August 22-24 - Travers & New York-bred weekend
  • ***August 30 & 31 - Woodward weekend

Get. Excite. Yes it’ll probably be somewhat of an expensive summer, but I’m drinking it up while I can! Feel free to message me if you’re coming to any of those days!

California Chrome stumbles at the break of the Belmont Stakes

California Chrome stumbles at the break of the Belmont Stakes

I was at the Belmont too and also got sick from heat exhausation... was hoping to spot you, but I think I was further down on the fence than you!

Asked by Anonymous

Aww I’m so sorry to hear that! It sucked didn’t it? I’ll be writing something to NYRA… again… about the enhanced security policy. It’s hurting them and it’s hurting us not being allowed to bring our own items. 

I didn’t see a LOT of people I was hoping to see at the Belmont. It was just way too crazy trying to move further than a few feet no matter where you sat/stood. I’ll be at the Stars and Stripes Festival on July 5 if you’re going!

Grading the Diehard Fan’s Belmont Stakes Experience

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The 146th running of the Belmont Stakes (I) was my third trip out to New York’s toughest race and my first-ever in-person Triple Crown run. The events of the day were as wild— and at times as disappointing— as the end result of the race. Because I used to be a video game writer and in honor of E3 week, I’ll be using the 1 to 10 grading scale. A “10” is the best I’ve ever had and exceeding expectations while a “1” is the worst imaginable.

I count myself among the few that could be labeled as “diehard, kind of selfish young racing fans.” I would rather glue myself to the rail all day then retreat inside for a beer and a hot dog, and would rather my beloved heart pick look straight at me than cash in a longshot. In that sense, Saturday’s Belmont Stakes card was like dying and going to heaven with more graded stakes action and racing superstars in one day than I’ve ever seen before. Triple Crown run or not, I was running to make it out to Long Island and drove the 3-hour drive back home with mixed results.

The Drive, Entering, Parking, and Leaving Belmont: 8.0

Thanks to my rampant problems with my car (I still love you, Cammy!), I had to drive my dad’s boat down to New York, which sucks because it’s really difficult to see around the car when I have to change lanes. The drive to was nearly flawless except for heavy bridge traffic on the Throg’s Neck, and more traffic than I expected coming into the peasant parking lot at Belmont. Upgrade this year: they had a few nicer shuttle buses to bring you to the gate! Unlike a lot of other people, I had next to no notable issues leaving Belmont when it was time to go and had a way easy time getting back onto the Cross Island Parkway since police had shut down the merging lane just for us, something they didn’t do last year.

Energy!: 9.0

One thing that immediately stood out this year for me: the excitement and enthusiasm I saw everywhere. So many fans dressed up in purple and green and some went the extra mile wearing elaborate costumes, hats, and made really neat signs. California Chrome’s co-owner came out and waved to fans and autographed items thrown up to him in the owner’s box, which was cool and really livened things up. This is what you come TO the races for.

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The Lineup of Races: 9.0

I was not a fan originally of smushing the Memorial Day card with the Belmont Stakes card, but it was probably a good idea in the long run just by looking at the quality of contenders that ran. I think I looked forward to every race leading up to the Belmont, and I commend the 30-minute or so wait between races (except the Belmont) as opposed to the past couple of years when it was 40-50 minutes between EVERY race. The Met Mile was stacked and the Ogden Phipps attracted the best mares in the country.

Handicapping: 9.5

I was very impressed with the fair track bias at Belmont Park that day and I was all-around very pleased with racing results which birthed very good if not excellent payouts and worthy winners as well as exciting performances. I unfortunately did not spread to Coffee Clique in my pick 4 ticket in the Just a Game (I), so thus I did not cash in. Can’t win ‘em all, but I am very happy with how my selections ran as well as horses I praised on this blog ran. Bayern finally made me a very proud supporter cutting back to the 7-furlong Woody Stephens (II), blowing Social Inclusion out of the water like I knew he could. Preakness pick Kid Cruz also made me ecstatic winning the Easy Goer Stakes, and a horse who failed me and a Moreno double wager last year, Wabbajack, cruised to victory in the first race. I wagered ahead of the crowd rush and on mobile, so my thoughts are untarnished by the long lines.

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Events: 6.0

There were several goings-on and giveaways that made the day a bit of a spree affair. I was able to pick up a California Chrome poster thanks to TVG and got autographs from the Triple Crown jockeys that were set up. Unfortunately, the crowds were too massive to take advantage of everything without missing a lot of racing; I waited an hour and a half in line for the jockey signing which I don’t think was worth it. And of course, you throw in the word “free” and people will try to grab 10 of everything only to abandon much on the grandstand floor. That’s people for you. I can’t say I was that excited for the music guests, but I appreciated the gesture of having something going on in the hour between the Manhattan Handicap (I) and the Belmont (I).

My Own Experience: 6.0

Loved getting to see so many greats, loved slithering my way down to the finish line once again this year, loved getting to see a Triple Crown attempt. I experienced very little of the tense interactions others had throughout the day. However, my time was marred thanks to a number of things that could have been prevented:

  • The laughable extended security ban: Does nothing, and it will never do anything except harm the experience of the average fan/racegoer and bring down handle and attendance. Every other person was trying to bring in contraband items at the gates and many prevailed somehow. It does not work and NYRA would be better off doing common sense inspections next year.
  • Getting ill because of above ban: Other than the Belmont, I was looking forward most to the Ogden Phipps, but I didn’t even get to see the post parade because I was sickened by heat exhaustion to the point where I threw up over the rail and had to be carted out by the medics. If I could have brought my sparkly new mini cooler with me, this wouldn’t have happened. Could I have bought ice or other? Yes… if I cared to wait 45+ minutes. The medics even advised me to get lunch but we wound up discarding the idea because of the lines. A big thank you to Bismarck and those around me who helped stabilize and comfort me.
  • Media interference: I feel for those who got stuck behind the speakers for the concert, which were originally raised but then lowered down right before the Belmont, obstructing the view of many. Even worse, that impacted myself and those around me, some Channel 10 guy from Albany thought it was suitable to set up shop on our side of the fence with a massive TV camera. I don’t give a damn if this guy would get fired for not getting his shot, we were there since 8:30am. Have some respect. You have a press pass. I do not like paying admission and sickening myself all day only to have some camera guy obstruct my view.

I give NYRA credit for going big, and I blame inexperience and moments without tact for ultimately garnering a lot of poor publicity. Regardless, if this was a purely racing crowd we wouldn’t have heard half of the complaints. Dismiss the security ban and consider doing an infield type location/setup for “mild” or newbie fans bothered by normal major sporting event woes. Advice to those coming out to big stakes days: come prepared, and if you don’t like the baggage of lines, expenses, and travel hiccups, you can always wager from home.

The home team at the Belmont Stakes: Wicked Strong and Rajiv Maragh

The home team at the Belmont Stakes: Wicked Strong and Rajiv Maragh

A lordly Samraat walks up to the gate of the Belmont Stakes

A lordly Samraat walks up to the gate of the Belmont Stakes

And they’re off in the Belmont Stakes!

And they’re off in the Belmont Stakes!

Going to the Thoroughbred races, keeping "track" of the memories. Obsessively providing a comprehensive and personal glance at the sport of kings through original photography, handicapping analysis, editorials, and much more.

Tracks visited: Calder, Saratoga, Belmont, Suffolk, Aqueduct.


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