Belmont on a sunny day is a beautiful park with the added benefit of horse races every half hour – IF you choose to partake. There are plenty of people in the sun-dappled backyard who apparently pay the three dollar admission merely for the benefit of a quiet green lawn on which to sunbathe.
But if the massive old trees on the grassy stretch leading up to Belmont’s viney brick facade are beautiful, we find the adjacent paddock, with horses circling the signature Belmont tree, far more so.
We’re here to watch one very beautiful filly race this afternoon. She is a sweet lover of a filly, all kisses and quiet requests for carrots, but enough of a Thoroughbred to require a latex-wrapped lip chain for her bath that morning, which she wears with quiet offense. “A lip chain! On me!” she huffs, but there’s no need to be dancing all over the stable, which she would doubtless seek out an excuse to do, so yes, darling, a lip chain.
At Aqueduct’s stables this morning we wore visitor’s badges, but this afternoon we’re doing our usual trek from paddock to apron, from watching them circle the pine tree behind wrought iron fencing to dancing through the deep sand of Belmont’s impossibly long oval. Belmont is our first racetrack – we came here when we first moved to New York City, years ago, and so our first impressions of racing were made with a backstretch so far in the distance that binoculars (available for rent in the grandstand) are necessary to make out the flying blurs on the far side.
At Tampa, mile races start directly in front of the grandstand – fun, because you can get close to the start. At Belmont, just the opposite, and you watch the load on TV screens.
As the horses load a monstrous white passenger jet flies low, on approach to JFK… The paint job matches the big Emirates billboard next to the infield toteboards. It catches the mid-afternoon sun and glints, golden and blinding, and then the horses are off and running.
The sweet filly runs her race, learns a few lessons for next time out, comes in with her head high, her ears pricked, and her eyes bright. That, my friend, is living, she seems to say. Any runner can tell you about the adrenaline rush after a good burst of speed. Imagine how great it feels to an animal built and born to run!
She goes tripping away, light-footed yet, for her carrots and kisses. We turn to head out into the sun-drenched paddock, where a dozen more athletes will soon be brought waltzing in. Not everyone will notice. Some people are just enjoying the afternoon in the park. With horse races, as a potential diversion, every half hour.
(Pictures to come)