Triple Crown: A Day at the Races

  • June 9, 2015

Similar to the Saturday on which my wife and I were married, June 6th started off a bit dreary and overcast. There was a light drizzle, the clouds more pouting than raining, but by the time lunch time hit the Sun had finally shaken off its Friday night and put on a good showing. I suppose that even Nature got a little excited and wanted to add some dramatic flair to the day, “‘is it going to rain? Boy oh boy I sure hope not!’ Siiiiiike, silly humans, of course I have whipped up a gorgeous mid-70’s afternoon with clear skies for your frivolous horse race. Now if you’d be so kind as to put $10 on horse #5 for me, we’ll call it even.” Simply put, this past Saturday was a historic day, and no, I’m not talking about the sweet weather. It was a day in which something happened that hadn’t happened since the late 70’s and something that has only been accomplished a mere eleven twelve times period. At around 7:00pm on June 6th, 2015, a once overlooked, plain, brown horse sprinted his way into the history books with a dominating performance at Belmont Park to win the 12th Triple Crown in history. The colt from Kentucky’s name was, as I’m sure you know by now, American Pharoah.

Belmont Park

Welcome to Belmont Park Race Track: Get Your Wallet and Your Liver Ready

Tucked on the outskirts of Elmont, NY, and situated virtually right on the border of Queens and Long Island, Belmont Park Race Track is a destination worth leaving the house for. With the way people were talking about the Triple-Crown-deciding race as if it were the only thing going on that day, you might be surprised to know that there were actually 13 races held at the track over the course of the day. Don’t be fooled by the fancy clothes and the pageantry, folks, behind the bow ties and the ridiculous hats (which start at $150 and go up to $400 at the track, by the way), the race track is nothing more than a circus for adults. As it turns out, we weren’t the only clowns who were hot to drink too much and marvel at majestic beasts running in circles that day. At the conclusion of our trek to the Island, which consisted of two trains, some hustle and dodging an outspoken old man on the J train who was going on and on about some anti-Semitic conspiracies, we finally assumed our place amongst the slow-moving herd of 90,000 and marched faithfully onward toward the oval and the ponies.

Crowd at Belmont

A fellow salutes the rowdy crowd at the race track with his over-priced beverage of choice.

Those drawn to the race track are an interesting collection of folks. Upon stepping onto the grounds, you immediately find yourself amongst a smattering of men in navy jackets and red slacks with bow ties and Derby hats and leggy women in gorgeous summer dresses and ridiculous hats, wearing heels so high that they clop around as much as the horses. Then there are the pros, the regulars, scribbling notes on the race forms while chewing on their cigars and checking the monitors to see the latest odds flashing across the screen, caught up in searching for the special voodoo that leaves you with more money in your pocket than what you came in with. You will, of course, see half of these people passed out in the bathrooms later in various stages of the purging process and pray to the merciful gods that you won’t have to poop until you get home.
Dog and Hog Wash

I will forever be a sucker for a dirty water dog and a cold beer.

Speaking of you, there you are, half-drunk with a mysterious sauce already stained on your shirt, not sure which nice booth to give your money to next – the bookie, the bartender or the barbecue sandwich guy. You see, there are so many wonderful ways in which to blow your hard earned cash at the race track. They have assembled an entire food truck village on the lawn in front of the grandstand and clubhouse, not to mention the numerous and plentiful indoor purveyors ready to offer to you the classics: hot dogs, italian sausages with onions and peppers, philly cheesesteaks and jumbo pretzels–yes, I got all of them, and yes, I ate all of them, and oh-dear-God-yes, I lived to regret every bite of them. No pile of food is complete, though, without something cold to wash it all down with.


Don’t you worry, they’ve got you covered there, too. In addition to the standard 16 fluid ounce fit-for-guzzling servings of your favorite ice cold lite beer–sold for the paltry sum of ten bucks a can–they stayed true to their fancy pants roots and offered single servings of champagne that were poured into these darling plastic flutes that were clearly chosen as a profitable practical joke because once in the hands of the lush patrons, they were as sturdy as the knees of those holding them. Equal amounts of the golden bubbles ended up on the blouses of the imbibers and on the backs of the boyfriends they were clopping along behind as did in the mouths of the ladies inclined to spend $15 per pop and pour. For those in search of more efficient inebriation, you could mosey your way around the grandstand until you stumbled upon a gal who, when tipped, would be so kind as to remove the speed pour from the liquor bottle and offer you a stout beverage and a smile, all at the low price of a couple hours of work earning minimum wage.

Once we were sufficiently fed and lubed up, the next obvious progression in the slow but steady degradation of our dignities was to try our luck in the slippery, rip-tide-esque world of horse race gambling. You’ll be floating along fine, playing a favorite here, a long-shot there, and then all of a sudden you’re getting pulled out to sea chasing a boxed 5-horse superfecta and deluded by “hunches,” and “feelings.” It was my first time cutting my teeth at the race track betting scene and I quickly found out there was much to learn. Just calling out your bet to the bookie has a learning curve all to itself, not to mention trying to analyze odds compared to a horse’s prior performance in an effort to try to predict how the race will go. Then you factor in that the bookies’ are changing the odds constantly in an attempt to sway you in directions favorable to the house and you’ve got yourself quite a lot to grapple with whilst getting dumber with each sip of blue-mountain-clad Coors Light.


A winning ticket! It didn’t take a genius to bet on American Pharoah that day.

Thankfully, my brother-in-law, Todd, was with me to give me a crash course in how to tackle this lingo-filled world. The general form for calling your bet is to declare your dollar amount first, then your type of bet, and then the horse or horses you are betting on. For example, on Saturday American Pharoah was the #5 horse in the 11th race that day, so for the ticket I’m holding in the picture I called the bet of “$10 to win with the #5 horse” which is about the simplest bet you can make. It was fun starting off with betting on single horses to win, but it didn’t take long before I was exploring the world of exactas (first two horses to finish), trifectas (first three horses to finish), and superfectas (first four or more horses to finish). These types of bets can be made even more fun and slippery by “boxing” them to get every possible combination of the finishing order of your chosen horses. Calling out a trifecta bet like that would go something like this “$1 trifecta box with the #1, #8, and #10 horses.” That bet would cost $6 because there are six possible combinations with those horses. This particular example is meaningful to me because it was the first (okay, only) trifecta bet I won that day and that $6 bet netted me $82 in winnings. Not too shabby, right? At that point in the day I had fully caught the bug and it wasn’t long before we were merrily floating along in the pattern of grabbing a beer, making a bet, watching a race, cursing the gods, grabbing a hot dog, making two bets, watching a race, thanking the gods, and so on.

Hens in the Fox Den

Here a guy is taking a selfie with his girlfriend with a line of women behind them as they both wait in line to use the toilets in the men’s bathroom.

We burned through several hours of daylight in that fashion and enjoyed every second of it. As the day marched on toward dusk, the place was filling up in all directions in anticipation of the big race scheduled for 6:50pm that evening. As more and more people showed up to the track, the lines continued to grow everywhere, but especially the bathrooms. It wasn’t long before a group of savvy and pioneering women fled the prohibitively long lines of the women’s bathroom and became stowaways in the men’s bathroom, taking refuge in the abhorrent stalls while the men continued to avoid eye contact at all costs and relieved themselves into the holes in the walls known as urinals. The whole scene was pretty comical and seemed to be working quite well until the line of women leading into the men’s bathroom ultimately got longer than that of the actual men waiting to get inside, making it a pretty easy case to crack for the otherwise invisible security staff at the venue. The long lines eventually led us to the moment we had all been waiting for: a precious sixty seconds of anticipation to see if perhaps today might be a day records in the history books. Already knowing the deal by now, we placed our bets early to beat the crowds, equipped ourselves with some fresh libations and plowed our way into the mass of drunken, cigar smoking inhabitants of the general assembly on the ground level. We finally arrived to a sliver of daylight and set our stances wide, waiting for the main event to begin. As we approached the tenth minute until showtime, the sound of trumpets blasted across the grandstand and it was met with a deafening roar in return from the expecting crowd. The ground began to shake as more and more people tried to squeeze onto the lawn near the finish line as if it were a rush hour subway car.

While the spectators were wriggling themselves into position, the horses and jockeys were squeezing into the stalls at the beginning of the track. The tension was building as the clock ticked toward the starting time…and then they were off! You could barely hear the rumble of the horses over the bellows of the crowd, each person shouting for a different horse that they wanted to win. As the horses made the final turn towards the part of the track that ran right in front of the crowd, American Pharoah had begun to take a sizable lead and bounded as fast as he could towards the finish line at the end of the straight away. In a matter of seconds, he was upon us and blew right past us. Though we could see him as he inched closer and closer to history, all you really had to do was to close your eyes and listen to the crowd to know when he crossed the finish line. The crowd immediately erupted into cacophony of applause, whistling and hollering the second American Pharoah won. After waiting 37 years since the last one, the Triple Crown clock has been reset to 2015. And so the watch begins yet again. Will we see a renaissance of the seventies when three Triple Crowns were won in the span of five years after a similar multi-decade drought, or will it not be until the 2050s that we see this happen again? That’s the beauty of sports of all kinds. We won’t know until the races are run and the bets are placed. Until next time, though, I’m going to do my best to savor this historic trip to the race track.
Staying in line with the finger-food theme of a ball park, what dessert is more portable than cookies? I whipped up a batch of these cookies before the weekend and enjoyed their delicious flavor all weekend long, especially after a long day at the track!

Blueberry Almond Oatmeal Cookies

Blueberry Almond Oatmeal CookiesIs there anything better than a freshly baked oatmeal cookie? For many years we’ve been sticking with a good thing and only putting raisins in them. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been great, but such a delicious cookie foundation deserves a little variety every now and then. Blueberries and almonds are a dynamite duo on their own, but add them to an oatmeal cookie and you’ve got something special indeed!
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