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THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN IN MAY 2015 BEFORE THE BELMONT STAKES
As each year passes, the pursuit of a Triple Crown becomes more and more tenuous for me. Being born in December 1978 (only 6 months after the last Triple Crown was won by Affirmed), as each attempt comes and goes, the feasibility of seeing a Triple Crown in my lifetime becomes more implausible.
As a native New Yorker, I have traveled to Belmont Park many times over the past 16 years to see my personal Triple Crown hopes evaporate before my eyes. I’ve seen five attempts in person from all different angles at Belmont and none of those angles have brought a Triple Crown to fruition.
As I prepare to take a new angle from the clubhouse this year, I await the chance for American Pharoah to live up to the anticipation and bring the Triple Crown to a generation of horse racing fans that have never seen one. Most people think of horse racing as an “old man’s game” with the visions of gray haired men wearing fedoras at the rail smoking cigars with rolled up Daily Racing Forms tucked under their arms. In actuality, there is a small group of younger fans that are interested in the industry and a Triple Crown may help attract even more fans into horse racing.
Many in my generation do not understand what it means to be a horse racing fan. Most of my friends think that I am completely crazy to be so involved with horse racing. So why does a married 36 year old with a career outside of horse racing care so much about the Triple Crown? It’s because I think I’m jinxed. I feel that I am jinxing the Triple Crown by going every year, but I can’t stop going. I’ve been to the NBA Finals, Game 6 of the ALCS and the NFL Playoffs, but nothing compares to the electricity in the air and the roar of the crowd as that horse trying for the Triple Crown makes that turn for home. I want to see it happen before my eyes. Being born right after the last one happened in 1978, I think it’s a lifelong journey.
I am obviously too young to remember Spectacular Bid or Pleasant Colony, but I grew up always watching the Triple Crown races on TV with my father and remember Alysheba and Sunday Silence’s attempts in the late 1980s. In my teen years, I recall Silver Charm and Real Quiet’s losses. My first attempt in person started in 1999 during my college days by trudging coolers filled with beer down Atlantic Avenue from my friend’s house in Bellerose. We saw Charismatic’s try to no prevail that day sitting in the backyard as he lost to Lemon Drop Kid.
In 2002, we would make a similar journey for War Emblem’s attempt, only to see him stumble out of the gate and see longshot Sarava win it all from the track apron. At least that year, a girl named Sara in my group hit it big. It was a consolation to another missed attempt.
My most memorable attempt was when New York bred Funny Cide went for the Crown in 2003. It was the rainiest day that I have ever experienced at the Belmont Stakes. We set up shop with our coolers under the back patio awning for cover this time. For the big race, I found a spot to stand on top of a bench outside in the rain right before the finish line. You may remember me as the guy yelling, “Everybody put your umbrellas down during the race!” The New York crowd obliged and I was the reason that hundreds got soaked watching the race that day. My favorite horse of all time Funny Cide got beat by Empire Maker that day and I took the photo below of the finish.
By the way, Empire Maker’s grandson is American Pharoah, so maybe that helps his chances. Either way, I left Belmont soaked that day with no Triple Crown win.
After three attempts, I felt like a jinx and with record crowds being predicted, I watched from home in 2004 to see Smarty Jones miss at the finish to longshot Birdstone.
So with the jinx off, I made my way back to Belmont for Big Brown in 2008. He couldn’t lose, they said. Reports close to the race said he had foot issues, though, and he did not finish the race. I stood in the sweltering heat that day on the apron with a monster sign that I made that read “Brown Crown.” ABC, CNN and the Associated Press took photos of me with my sign and said they would use it if he won. The photo here shows my extreme disappointment after the race holding my sign that was soon destroyed by angry on-lookers. Again a longshot named Da’Tara won and once again a girl in our group said her sister’s name was Tara and hit it big.
Last year, I graduated to a grandstand seat at the 1/8th pole with a view of California Chrome making the turn for home in perfect stalking position only a length and a half from the lead (see my photo below). I thought this was it! He was right there! And it didn’t happen again, as Tonalist won the “The Test of the Champion.”
So after these attempts, you can probably hear my frustration. I just don’t know if it’s going to happen. I’ve been here before. This year, I’ve bought tickets in the clubhouse for the first time after the finish line. Maybe that will help alleviate my jinx. If they don’t have to pass me in the stretch, maybe I have a better chance of seeing American Pharoah pass me as a Triple Crown winner after he crosses the wire. This year, I’m also taking my father with me, who has never gone to a Belmont Stakes and introduced me to horse racing by taking me to Saratoga every summer growing up.
From a kid going to the track with his dad, to a punk college kid with coolers of beer, to getting more involved with horse racing, I have grown up as these Triple Crown attempts have come and gone in front of me over the past 16 years. For all my hopes and the hopes of a generation of horse racing fans that have never seen a Triple Crown, I’ll be rooting harder than ever that it finally happens this year.
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