2:30 p.m.The fifth race goes off. Track announcer Tom Durkin gets a little animated.Afrashad, a Smoke Glacken colt making just his second career start goes to the lead."A wild first quarter there," Durkin says, as Afrashad posts a :21.86 opening quarter on the front end under Richard Migliore in the six-furlong allowance race."A half in fourty-four seconds flat," Durkin exclaims as Afrashad turns for home after a :44.12 half."He opens up by two and-a-half lengths," is the call as the chestnut 4-year-old pulls away. "This is a very...fast...horse...in 1:08 and one!"Afrashad hits the line in 1:08.38. The track standard at Belmont is 1:07.66 set by Artax back in 1999.
2:15 p.m.By the grandstand entrance off the paddock, a crowd gathers. They're flocking around Penny Chenery, the owner of Secretariat, the most famous Belmont winner of them all. Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973 by winning the Belmont by 31 lengths.Chenery, who lived on Long Island for a long time, now lives in Denver to be closer to her daughter and her family."It feels so good to be back," she says. She got into town on Wednesday and is staying with a friend while getting back into the New York swing.She's also gotten back into the horse business, buying a horse she has in partnership with Charlotte Weber of Live Oak Plantation."I'm so excited to have a horse again," she says. "The best thing for an 84-year-old to do is to have a 2-year-old in training."Keep your eyes peeled for a horse named Spanish Galleon. He's currently in training at Calumet Farm in Kentucky.
Creating the Red Sea
2:00 p.m.In the paddock prior to the fifth race, Jasper Whitaker is handing out red baseball caps to the fans gathered around the grandstand side to catch a better look at the horses. He's creating the Red Sea as patrons put their caps on.The caps are emblazoned with white type that reads "Fly Emirates." The airline, a sponsor of the Breeders' Cup, is the sponsor of the fifth race.Whitaker is doing the leg work for his wife, Betina Jordan, who works in sponsorship for the airline. He was allowed to hand out 50 caps. They're gone in a matter of moments.
12:40 p.m.There is some serious wind out there today. The flags all over Belmont Park have been snapping at attention for the better part of the day.The wind is blowing a nice cross breeze north-to-south across the track. Sinkwich comes from off the pace to win the second race as the horses on the front end fade in the stretch. In the first race, Dual Jewels comes from off the pace to run away with the victory as the horses on the front end fade in the stretch.Hmmm.....
12:15 p.m.Trainer Howie Tesher makes his way through the second floor of the clubhouse. He's excited about today's card at Belmont.In the Belmont, he likes Sunriver and Deputy Glitters."I think he's coming up to the race good," he says of Sunriver. "I really think he's going to sit well; there is a little bit of speed; he'll get a good trip."And Deputy Glitters?"Tom Albertrani worked for me when he got started," he says. Albertraini trains Deputy Glitters. "He told me he's going to run good and, the more I look at his dope (past performances), the more I think he has a big chance."
10:45 a.m.Soaking up some of the bright sunshine out by the clubhouse paddock area is Paul Carlucci. The dapper gentleman was named publisher of the New York Post last September.He says he comes to the track at least once a week. He's an owner and is also involved in Thoroughbred ownership with the partnership West Point Thoroughbreds. Carlucci says he is "in" on four of West Point's horses, but not High Finance, their Belmont Stakes (gr. I) entrant. As for the Belmont, Carlucci likes Jazil when the horses are called to the post later this afternoon. "He's a good closer," he says.
Life's a Picnic
10:30 a.m.The picnic area out behind the grandstand is filling in, but it's not overflowing like it has been in past years when a Triple Crown was on the line.At one table is a crew that assembled at seven a.m. this morning and drove in from Springfield, Mass., for an afternoon at Belmont Park. It's a nice mix of Belmont veterans and rookies.The ringleader is Richard Costello of Northhampton. He's been to about 15 runnings of the Belmont, but it's his first in about 10 years. He remembers fondly the glory days of the late '70s and '80s. For this year, he favors Bluegrass Cat, Oh So Awesome, and Steppenwolfer.Carl Deitz of Springfield is at the Belmont for the first time since Funny Cide's Triple Crown bid in 2003. It was a little more crowded that day, with 100,000-plus on hand. He remembers hanging out by the beer truck that day.Others around the table, drinking coffee, are Jerry Godere, Morgan Miller, and his mother, Marilyn Miller.Oh So Awesome figures in a lot of their picks for the big race.They're flanked by several coolers and backpacks while they dissect the Daily Racing Form."We don't have any beer," Godere says of the contents of the coolers. "We've got to keep our heads because we're going to make a lot of money today."
The Gate Keeper
9:45 a.m.Guarding the crossover from the grandstand to the clubhouse outside the paddock at Belmont Park is Sergio Polanco. He should be a familiar face to those who attend the races at NYRA tracks.Sometimes, people make it tough," he says of his job, "but for the most part, it's OK."It's been OK for Polanco at Belmont for some time. He's been on the beat at Belmont, Aqueduct, and Saratoga for 18 years.The Santo Domingo native came to New York 26 years ago as an aspiring jockey, but didn't find the success in New York that he had found at home.Polanco can often be heard singing. The acoustics under the overhang of the building with all the brick and concrete add to the richness of his voice. His tunes are always upbeat."I'm happy all the time," he says. "As long as you have Jesus Christ in your heart, you've got to be happy."
Giving Him the High Sign
9:30 a.m.Against the wall of the grandstand is the "world's largest get well card." Measuring seven feet wide by 62 feet long, it features several photos of Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Barbaro. Some gates are blocking the sign...for now. It's open to the public for signing after 10 a.m. The first to sign will be Barbaro's jockey, Edgar Prado.Manning the gate is Pete Mistretta, a 21-year-old marketing intern for NYRA. There are several packets of markers in a stack for those who want to sign the card. According to Mistretta, they have 84 markers.They're counting on 50-60,000 people showing up today for the Belmont Stakes. Let's hope they don't run out of ink.
A Dollah, No Hollah
9:00 a.m.At the booth in the grandstand selling souvenirs, the officially licensed Belmont Stakes t-shirts are selling for $19. They come in a variety of colors. The lime green "Barbaro" t-shirts are going for $20. The extra dollar?It's more than just star power for the injured classic winner. A sign below the stack of shirts notes a portion of the proceeds go to the "Barbaro Fund" and to "Thoroughbred Charities of America." The effort is officially licensed by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
7:00 a.m.Bright sun and windy conditions helped dry out the main track at Belmont Park yesterday as the surface was continually upgraded throughout the day. After 7 p.m., however, the heavens opened up again and it poured on Long Island.Belmont morning saw the sun peeking its way between some heavy-looking clouds. There is plenty of standing water on the roads. The forecast for the day is not too bad: windy and cool with some sun to break through the clouds throughout the day. It's supposed to dry out. The temperature at post time should be 71 degrees.Bring a jacket.The two stakes on the turf course today should be interesting. In yesterday's Hill Prince Stakes (gr. IIIT), run over a soft Widener course, 3-year-olds pretty much clicked off :24 quarters in the mile race in :24.03, :48.07, 1:12.44, and 1:36.74. That was before last night's cloudburst.
All InYou can say what you will about today's field for the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). However, the lineup at Belmont Park today is a royal flush. Kudos go to the horsemen participating and to NYRA racing secretary and handicapper Paul J. Campo and stakes coordinator Andrew Byrnes for dealing up a stacked deck.Working backward from the Belmont:The Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) at 10 furlongs looks to be as good as any recent running of the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT). The field is phenomenal. English Channel, winner of the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) last time out, tackles last year's Manhattan winner Good Reward, grade/group I winners Relaxed Gesture and Grey Swallow, and Juddmonte Farms' strong closer Cacique.And we can't leave out graded winners Dreadnaught, who just missed by a head to Better Talk Now in the Dixie at Pimlico, Darley's Sabre d'Argent, and the always tough Silver Whistle.Wow.Four fillies out of the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) show up in the Acorn (gr. I). Adieu, who won the Frizette (gr. I) here last fall, makes her second start on the comeback trail in the one-turn mile event. But we can't forget about Hello Liberty, who won the Nassau County Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II) May 6 and Teammate, a six-length winner of the Bonnie Miss Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park March for Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens.Too Much Bling has won three straight and has the rail for the seven-furlong Woody Stephens Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II) for 3-year-olds. The race used to be called the Riva Ridge. Front-runner and Kentucky Derby pacesetter Keyed Entry returns as well, but we're wondering if we'll be dazzled again by Songster, who scorched the earth on the Preakness undercard with a 10-length win in the six-furlong Hirsch Jacobs (gr. III).The Just a Game Handicap (gr. IIT) on the turf features Gorella, the French-bred filly who took Artie Schiller and Leroidesanimaux all the way to the wire in last fall's NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) and ran a game fifth against the big boys in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. She's in against just fillies this time around, but it won't be easy. Ozone Bere impressed in her first U.S. start at Pimlico; Wend rarely fails to fire; and Mirabilis was sharp on Derby day in the Distaff Turf Mile (gr. IIIT) at Churchill Downs.The stakesfest kicks off at about 3:10 p.m. with the True North Handicap (gr. II) at six furlongs. Double trouble would appear to come from the Jimmy Jerkens-trained pair of Tiger and Voodoo.