There were happy people all over Belmont on Saturday afternoon. The sun in the backyard was warm, the leaves were turning, and a crowd of nearly 7,000 turned out to celebrate New York racing and autumn. Picnics were set up, kids ran everywhere, and the folks who turned out accepted with alacrity the various promotions and services that were provided.
Wandering the backyard, I saw bundled up people (in the shade and the wind, it was pretty chilly) studying programs and watching races, and children lining up to carve pumpkins and get their faces painted. As I walked around, I needed to make sure that I didn’t get run over by the hayride, and to ward off the chill, I accepted the shot of Woodford Reserve bourbon being handed out at the tasting in the backyard tent, which attracted the longest lines of the day.
That woman on the left, who looks like she’s freezing in her light coat, is one of the models; the scanty garb of her and her colleagues was no protection from the elements yesterday, so their, um, charms weren’t quite as on display as some in the crowd would have hoped.
Everywhere I went, I heard people talk about what a good time they were having: bettors, NYRA staff, fans. I heard one woman, in a deep southern accent, say to another, “Isn’t this great? I can’t wait to come back.” Her friend replied, “Can you imagine it in the spring? How much fun the kids would have? We’re definitely coming back.”
No one had more fun yesterday than Dominic Galluscio, whose Stormy’s Smile took the Maid of the Mist at 75 – 1. Dom trains the horses of a friend of mine who was recently admitted to the hospital; in the minutes before the race, I ran into him and we chatted about our friend (who’s doing well), and then about his filly. “My horse is a longshot,” he said, noting the obvious. “What do you think?” I asked. “Well, she wants to go long…” he said, his voice trailing off.
As they loaded, Galluscio got the filly’s owner on the phone (as is his wont) and talked him through the race. I wasn’t much listening, or honestly, paying attention to the race, so it wasn’t until the horses hit the stretch and Dom’s voice began to get louder, and more excited, and louder, and more excited, that I noticed that his horse was not only on the lead but pulling away… “She won it!” he yelled into the phone. “Wire to wire! She won it!”
As we ran downstairs, he looked at me and said, “If we’d have bet $200 to win on her, we’d have won more than the purse money!”
$200? I’d have settled for a buck win and place. It is but small consolation to know that Dom didn’t bet her, either.
Our favorite Irish Blast was, as predicted, in over his head in his first start back after an injury layoff. He hadn’t raced in six months; he’d never run in a stakes race; and he was in against multiple stakes winners. He was placed right where he wanted to be, raced four wide, and faded to next to last in the stretch. Ernie Munick saw him walk back to the paddock and noted that he was blowing pretty hard; he’s a game little horse and here’s hoping his return to the track is soon a successful one.
Feline and weather hunch bettors were rewarded when Ice Cool Kitty ran utterly contrarily to her favored style, closing in the stretch to blow by By The Light, who looked home free, to win by a length at 12 – 1. Though she has occasionally stalked in her career, a deep closer she is not, and when she didn’t get a call after the first one, I gave up on her. Fortunately, By The Light and Under Serviced dueled each other into fatigue, and when the rail opened, Ice Cool Kitty flew up to win, evoking this most uncharacteristic call for her: “…trying to hold off the late charge of Ice Cool Kitty!”
Though only three owners are listed for Stud Muffin, many, many more folks than that were rooting for the grey colt in the Empire Classic as he pulled in front in the stretch. They were jumping up and down and screaming and hugging; I found out later that while they were excited about Stud Muffin’s win, at least one of them had also hit the $2,126 trifecta. As they made their way to the winner’s circle, a woman turned to me (she’s the first woman to the left of the horse) and said, “Look at us! A bunch of ragamuffins in the winner’s circle.” Not a bunch of stud muffins?
Everyone I talked to yesterday said that they look forward to Showcase Day; they like being at the track in the autumn, they like celebrating New York-breds, and they like seeing horses that they know racing in the spotlight. One handicapper also talked about the advantages of betting these races, because he’d seen the horses race so many times. (He also called Stormy’s Smile the most improbable winner he’d ever seen.)
All around Belmont were signs of moving; in a week of half, New York racing shifts to Aqueduct, and boxes are packed and labeled, ready to be shifted a few miles away to Ozone Park. While I know that some folks out there won’t share this opinion, there’s a certain comfort in knowing that, while some of the horses we watched yesterday will take the winter off, many will be there through the winter, as the green of Belmont switches to the blue of Aqueduct, when the Long Island Rail Road is replaced by the A train. I like that.