Do horses like to race? Peta says no. But when Yuri invited me to attend the 145th Belmont Stakes on June 8th, it was less about the horses and more about the hats.
Yuri made three fascinators for the event, one of which was for me, and it had a name: Oh! Audrey.
The Belmont Stakes is the final leg of the Triple Crown, which includes the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. This year a different horse won each race in the Triple Crown. But it’s not just about winning. It’s also an opportunity to dress up, gamble and have a picnic.
At 10.30am, we were among the first to arrive. Long lines led out of Belmont Park LIRR station, with two security checks along the way. According to regular attendees, the rules have become stricter in recent years. Alcohol and folding chairs are no longer allowed in, although some people have found ways around these rules.
At the second checkpoint, I was asked to remove everything from my tote bag and place it in a clear plastic bag. The security guard stared at my many items and then waved me through, saying, “Have a good day.”
When the first horses trotted out for viewing, I was happy to see how healthy they looked, their coats gleaming over their well-muscled flanks.
We took a spot at the front of the racetrack. Other people set up their parties in the back near the paddock or in the terrace seating. Early on, the atmosphere was relaxed and there was plenty of space. As the hour got closer to the 6.36pm Belmont Stakes, the roar of chatter grew and people started cramming into our front row space.
In the spirit of the event, I decided to place a bet: $5 on the number 3 horse, Raven Rise, in the third race to win. Then I decided to bet again: on 1a, Fast Bullet, in the 7th race. As a bonus, betting for 1a included 1, Justin Phillip.
As the 7th race started, Fast Bullet zoomed out in front, and kept the lead, with Justin Phillip close behind. And I didn’t see any riding crop come out; the horse was just racing.
I won $9 for the $5 I had bet on Fast Bullet.
“Big stakes you’ve got going there,” said the cashier.
Total betting for the Belmont Stakes, which was won by Palace Malice, reached $88,652,023, and 47,562 people attended. Some paraded in hats and braces, while others relaxed in shorts and flip-flops. There was something for everyone, and until someone proves otherwise, I will choose to believe the horses were happy too.