I’ve spent much of the last 24 hours writing Belmont Stakes wrap-up posts: one for Forbes on the financial success of the day, one for BelmontStakes.com on what a Belmont without I’ll Have Another might have felt like, recaps of undercard stakes races and a feature on John Velazquez for Thoroughbred Times. I am blessed to have such opportunities, which this year have offered plenty of time to think about this year’s Belmont, and about racing in general.
Over the last few months, it’s been hard to be a racing fan, especially in New York. I have long loved and been proud of New York racing, and it is facing trying times, not helped by the many observers who willfully or ignorantly conflate the New York Racing Association with the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, blaming the former for the actions of the latter.
So when we heard on Friday morning that I’ll Have Another wouldn’t run in the Belmont, that he wouldn’t try to become a Triple Crown winner, it was one of those, “The hits just keep on comin’” moments.
And when on Saturday morning it looked like it would pour all day long, I thought that we just might be heading towards one of the most dismal Belmont days ever.
Instead, we got maybe one of the most memorable days ever, and yeah, feel free to call me a Belmont homer because of that comment.
My writing assignments fell late in the afternoon, so I got to spend much of the day seeing friends, hanging out in my seats, and watching races as a fan. Only two people I know who had planned on coming decided not to, and the nearly 86,000 people who showed up had apparently decided that the Belmont was still a great way to spend the day, even without I’ll Have Another.
There was money to be made and favorite horses to be cheered and glasses to be raised and friends to be greeted.
It’s hard to pick a favorite race of the day. The Just A Game, won by Tapitsfly? (My race recap here.) Caixa Eletronica’s electrifying run in the True North? The nose win by Desert Blanc in the Manhattan? Trinniberg doing what he does best and winning the Woody Stephens?
And wagering considerations aside, I don’t know how anyone could be disappointed in the redemption of Union Rags. The horse with the history of troubled trips stays tucked on the rail for a mile and a half and prevails by a neck? The horse owned by the woman who bred him and sold him…then dreamed about him and bought him back? The horse who had to prove, according to many commentators, that he was who we thought he was last year and earlier this spring?
There was no shortage of good stories that could have been told at this Belmont: Maybe Paynter could do for his owner and trainer what Bodemeister couldn’t (and oh, he almost did). Maybe Ken McPeek could come in and pull an upset again. Maybe Dale Romans could win the Met Mile-Belmont training double.
We didn’t get any those stories, and we didn’t get the one that the racing world wanted either, which was to see I’ll Have Another try to become the 12th Triple Crown winner. But I’ll Have Another’s injury isn’t serious, and we can be grateful for that, and for the fact there is hope that the injury suffered by Giant Ryan in the True North can be treated.
And as a fan of New York racing, I’m grateful that nearly 86,000 came to Belmont, and that they bet with both fists, and that they got to see a terrific day of racing, capped by a Belmont that thrilled down to its final strides.