For anyone who was paying attention, Belmont 2007 was unforgettable.
For me, it was not your typical day at the races, and not only because of Rags to Riches’ victory. The night before, I contracted some horrible bug and spent most of the evening throwing up; undeterred the next morning, I determinedly marched myself out to Belmont, convincing myself that whatever it was would pass in time for me to enjoy the day.
Hmm…not exactly. I spent the first hour I was at Belmont stretched out under the tote board near the paddock, trying desperately to get my stomach to stop jumping; I finally gave up and shortly before post time sought the Belmont Park infirmary, deep within the bowels of the grandstand. Sitting there waiting for a nurse, I saw Robby Albarado (in a bathrobe) and Julien Leparoux come down to check in.
The nurses and doctor I saw that day were remarkable: patient, considerate, kind. They gave me a bed so that I could nap, and somehow scared up a banana for me to eat with my ginger ale. After sleeping for an hour or so, I joined the gang at our seats. I didn’t feel great, but I knew that I’d make it through the day, and I intermittently medicated myself with sips of bourbon, which I’ve heard is an excellent cure for an upset stomach.
My handicapping for the day didn’t do much to alleviate my nausea; chalky chalky chalky through the beginning of the card, and when I did something I almost never do–adjust my wagering to fit established patterns of winners that day–throwing out a long-shot in the True North—you guessed it, Will He Shine won and paid $22.80. Forget the stomach bug–I was making myself sick.
Teuflesberg’s surprising performance in the Woody Stephens electrified the crowd, as did Better Talk Now’s victory two races later in the Manhattan: Cosmonaut leading in the stretch, Better Talk Now making a run and ducking to the rail, Shakis and English Channel hanging in there tenaciously. No way to tell who won, and when Better Talk Now’s number was posted, there was much rejoicing, from those who had the winner and even those who didn’t, who applauded the eight-year-old as he made his way to the winner’s circle. Most of us probably thought that we’d seen the race of the day.
Ah, little did we know. Somehow, my brother had forgotten his camera, and I had strict instructions to shoot if Rags to Riches were in front when the horses passed in front of us. My camera at the time was not great, and I’m a pretty lousy photographer, but we got what we needed:
Did she win?
This wonderful photo by Adam Coglianese says it all:
(Photo used with permission)
I have always thought (and yes, feel free to apply the anthropomorphic label) that Rags looks fiercely determined, indomitable, while Curlin, with his wide eye and ears back, is thinking, “Shit! I’m getting beat by a GIRL!”
Yes, Afleet Alex’s Belmont made me happier than any horse race I’ve seen…but this Belmont was the most exciting, and whenever I talk about it, I come back to Joe Drape’s wonderful, perfect words: “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 would not forget” (New York Times). Go back and read the whole article; it’s worth it.
When the Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994, Sam Rosen cried, “The New York Rangers have won the Stanley Cup…and this one will last a lifetime!” Heartfelt and accurate at the moment, fourteen years later, that sentiment is debatable; for Rangers’ fans, that one championship will not be enough. But fourteen years from now, or twenty-four, or thirty-four, I can’t imagine that Rags’ achievement last June will seem anything except as impressive as it does now. A year out, it is all the more remarkable, given what Curlin has accomplished since then.
It’s a shame, yes, that we no longer see Rags on the track, but she and her connections gave everyone present at Belmont a year ago a moment that none of us will ever forget, even without a trip to the infirmary.