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Jim Connelly

A day at the Belmont

11 June 2012

By Jim Connelly
ELMONT, N.Y. ā€“- This past Thursday morning became one of the best for me in recent years. Among other things going right, I got a call from a friend who asked simply: Want to go to the Belmont Stakes?

Seriously? That's not even a question one needs to ask me.

But that wasn't all. The question was followed by the statement: "You'll be a guest of Longines, the Swiss watchmaker who also happens to be the Official Timepiece of the Belmont Stakes (as well as the Kentucky Derby). The seats are in The Turf and Field Club."

Now I've been to hundreds of horse races but never even fathomed sitting in the clubhouse, let alone a private dining area. I quickly accepted.

As we all know, this year's Belmont was the race of the year until Triple Crown threat I'll Have Another ended his Triple Crown bid a day early, scratching due to "tendonitis."

Don't get me wrong, I think if the horse is injured, scratching makes total sense. But everything I've read doesn't really indicate there was much injury ā€“ including a quote from the track doctor who suggested he couldn't detect any injury but also indicated that sometimes you can't tell.

Personally, I wonder if this scratch wasn't a bit of trainer Doug O'Neill and owners Reddam Racing giving the middle finger to the New York Racing Association. O'Neill has come under scrutiny concerning potentially juicing other horses and the NYRA went as far as to sequester all of the Belmont Stakes horses in a private barn with tight security.

Off my soapbox, I'll now get back to the situation at hand.

With or without I'll Have Another, I'm in the lap of luxury watching arguably one of the most exciting horse racing programs around. Thus, I decided to chronicle the day for the good folks at Casino City, so you can follow along my success and pain as the day goes on.

11:15 a.m.: My phone rings and it is the car service. They've arrived at my hotel and we're off to Belmont.

12:03 p.m.: Pull up to the Clubhouse and we're headed to the Turf and Field Club. This is simply something I'm not used to yet.

Inside the Turf and Field Club was an air-conditioned restaurant with buffets all around me.

This is probably a good time to take an aside and talk about a decision I made about a week ago that I'm regretting right now. I decided that it's time to shed some pounds and started on a strict low-carb diet. No bread, no wonderful fried food. Thus, I've likely rendered that buffet pretty useless.

Nonetheless, the Turf and Field Club is unlike any venue I have been in to watch a horse race. Thanks, Longines!

12:28 p.m.: I missed the first two races, so it's time to start handicapping the third race. Thankfully I looked at this one last night and like Overextended, the 6 horse. Keeping it simple on my first bet, $10 win/place/show on Overextended.

12:39 p.m.: Overextended ran the entire race in last place until the stretch where he turned on the jets to finish third. Mineswept was the winner. Overextended paid $6.40 to show, so I made a whopping $2.00 on my first bet of the day.

Result: +$2.00. Current bankroll $402.00

By the way, the favorite in the third race was a horse named Jeter. Think about that, Jeter running in New York. Think he was overbet? Definitely. As a Red Sox fan, I was happy to see Jeter lead most of the entire race only to fall out of the money at the finish line.

12:51 p.m.: The fourth race is a Maiden Special, meaning I might as well close my eyes and point to a horse to bet. I've never done well betting the maidens. The race is on turf, making it more difficult to handicap.

12:59 p.m.: Longwood Lane, the 11, is the favorite and I like his numbers. But I also love the speed rating for Ruthless Alley, number 6. Iā€™m going to put some win money, $10, on 6 to win and box the exacta for $2 with 6 and 11 ($12 bet) and throw in the number 8 horse Ur for good measure.

1:16 p.m.: Did I mention I hate picking maiden races? Ruthless Alley went wire-to-wire, except for the final two feet. That's when 4 horse Define won at the wire. There goes what would've been a 21-1 horse and of course my exacta as well.

That was the bad news from the fourth race. The good news was, as I was watching from the balcony outside the Turf and Field Club, I noticed New York Jets coach Rex Ryan's table is right below me. As a Pats fan, if I happen to get very excited during a race and spill my drink on him, you can't blame me, right?

Result: -$22.00. Current bankroll: $380.00

1:28 p.m.: After such a painful loss, I decided to head to the buffet. That diet didn't get tested though. I chose a big plate of salad. Trust me, if I have watch another 21-1 shot lose at the wire, that diet may be destroyed.

1:36 p.m.: Another writer sitting at the table comes back from the betting window prior to the fifth race and tells me that a bunch of New York Giants players were in front of him. They were all betting on the 12 horse. Curious, I look at the program. The horse's name? Our Eli.

1:40 p.m.: Liking two horses in this fifth race: Mr. Vantastic, the 9 horse, and Adirondack Dancer, the 10. The latter is currently the favorite and is rated the best finisher in the race. Mr. Vantastic is rated as the top speed horse, but is generally not a good starter. His strong finishes, however, have resulted in a lot of in-the-money finishes. I'm going to hedge on 9 with a $5 win/place/show, $20 to win on the 10 and a $2 exacta box with 9-10 throwing in the Headingintothecity (2).

1:56 p.m.: Not even close. The 9 and 10 horses never got much jump and both finished out of the money. So did Our Eli, though, so I feel some vindication.

Result: -$47.00. Current bankroll: $333.00

2:10 p.m.: I decide to go for a walk and venture outside to the grazing area where some friends are sitting. They're struggling with the fact that the Belmont closed its tailgating area this year, so they have a cooler in their car with about 100 beers. They had decided that it would be better to go back to the car, pound a few beers and then pay the $10 admission rather than pay the $10 per charge inside the park.

2:27 p.m.: Just a couple of minutes to post for the sixth race, which is the first stakes race of the day (The Easy Goer Stakes). I don't have enough time to really handicap this race thoroughly, so I'm taking the advice of someone I overheard at the betting window. Going with a $2 exacta box with Romancing The Gold (2), Brimstone Island (5) and Teeth Of The Dog (6), the heavy favorite that finished fifth in the Preakness. Not exactly scientific, but my version of science hasn't worked well today anyway.

For the record, Rex Ryan is in the building based on the fact he was standing next to me in the betting line. He wasn't who I overheard, though.

2:37 p.m.: As the race hit the stretch, I was looking golden with Romancing The Gold leading and Teeth Of The Dog chasing. Not surprisingly, Teeth Of The Dog won, but Romancing absolutely died in the final furlong. Fast Falcon grabbed second and I was another $12.00 in the hole.

Result: -$12.00. Current bankroll: $322.00

2:41 p.m.: Time to test the diet at this buffet again.

2:52 p.m.: Survived the buffet with a big thick piece of roast beef. Encrusted in espresso, it was like a food orgasm in my mouth. Maybe the sign of good things to come?

2:54 p.m.: We're about 20 minutes away from the race I've been waiting for all day, the True North Handicap. The reason I'm anxious about this one is because of the 7 horse, Caixa Electronica. This is my money-in-the-bank horse for the day. Its last four races were graded handicaps with a win in the Grade 2 Charles Town stakes and a third in the Toboggan Stakes. It also has done well in shorter races and this one is a quick six-furlong sprint. It opened as the third favorite at 5-1 but currently is the three-way favorite at 4-1.

2:58 p.m.: I feel much more comfortable among all the New York Giants nearby now that I see Patriots Wes Welker and Deion Branch two tables to my right. Could this be the sign I need to turn my day around?

3:04 p.m.: Decide that I'm going heavy with my money-in-the-bank horse and drop $50 on the 7. Just to make sure that I don't get snipped at the wire, I'm also placing and ALL over 7 in my exacta.

3:17 p.m.: Caixa Electronia looks horrible out of the gate and drops 12 lengths back. Being such a short race it seems hopeless that he can make a comeback. That was until the stretch run, where, trailing by about 8 lengths he shot to the finish line like he came out of a cannon. FINALLY a win for me! Should I go over and thank Welker and Branch?

Result: +$166.00. Current bankroll: $488.00

3:30 p.m.: With a solid win in the bank, I'm feeling considerably better. That is until I look to my left and see Welker and Branch yucking it up with Rex Ryan. I know, I'd be naive to think they don't get along. Just hoping it doesn't crush my gambling mojo.

3:38 p.m.: For the record, the Pats table has about four people sitting at it but is by far the loudest in the entire Turf and Field Club.

3:40 p.m.: For the record, part 2: With all the football players and their wives in the room, I'm realizing I'm probably considered the ultimate long shot for best looking. I'm probably not even the best gambler in the room.

3:54 p.m.: We're minutes away for the most exciting race of the day for those at my table, the Grade 1 Longines Just a Game Stakes. The winning jockey, owner and trainer all get a Longines watch from the Heritage Column-Wheel Chronograph collection. That's quite an impressive payday for the jock, with the gift valued at over $3,000.

In terms of betting, I don't see a lot of money to be made on this race. I love Tapitsfly (1), but also believe the 4 horse, Winter Memories, is solid. It feels like I should dump some solid money on the 1 horse to win, but eventually I get timid and take the 1-4 along with Dancinginherdreams (6) in a three-horse $2 exacta box. I also threw a quick $1.00 pick 4 bet in taking 1-4/5/7/5-9 for $4.

4:06 p.m.: Like I called it, Tapitsfly and Winter Memories finished one-two. I'm going to regret not throwing $100 on Tapitsfly at 3-1. Such is life, but I still hit for $21.60 on the exacta. Also, I stayed alive in the pick 4.

Result: +$9.60. Current bankroll: $497.60

4:32 p.m.: The Turf and Field Club is now packed to the gills and there is almost a quiet buzz in the room as everyone seems focused on picking a winner in the Belmont. I'm focused on the ninth race, the Grade 2 Woody Stevens Stakes, which has some real class horses running. Even though he's young and not too experienced, I like Bourbon Courage for his speed and ability to close out races. In three lifetime starts, he has two wins. I'm also looking at Trinniberg (6), which ran the Derby but struggled. For some undefinable reason, I also like the 2 horse, Hardened Wildcat, which had five straight finishes in the money. Now the question, who do I bet?

4:38 p.m.: I approached the window about five minutes before post and thanks to an "older" gentleman up at the front of the line, all I could muster was a $10 win-place-show bet on Bourbon Courage. By the time I got out "$50 to win on 6" the race had closed. Fingers crossed.

4:44 p.m.: The 6 horse Trinniberg goes wire-to-wire and I'm cursing old people everywhere.

Result: -$30.00. Current bankroll: $467.60

4:54 p.m.: The Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap is yet another Grade 1 stakes on the program. Only seven horses in this one, but I think I might have the long shot play of the day here. Omayad is considered as running up in class despite the fact that in its home country of Chile, this horse won six straight graded stakes races, two of which were Grade 1. Despite some incredible competition, including Brilliant Speed (6), which finished third in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Derby Day, I'm going to throw my money on Omayad, even though his price dropped from a 12-1 open price to 3-1 just in front of post. I'll hedge with a $20 win-place bet here, but I also need some sort of exotic.

I had (foolishly) singled #7 Hudson Steele in my pick 4, which is now dead. But I feel like 1-6-7 in an exacta box probably makes sense. We're still 36 minutes from post, and I feel like I should hustle to the window to avoid the geriatric line right before the race closes.

5:05 p.m.: For the record, part 3: The major contingent of NFL stars that were parked around me most of the day seems to have dissipated. I can't tell where they've gone but it's a heck of a lot quieter in here now.

5:15 p.m.: Just had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Longines' director of brand who told me more details about their Belmont sponsorship. Another perk to winners comes in the feature, where once again the owner, trainer and jockey all get beautiful Longines watches. This is just one of a handful of races that Longines sponsors. Next week, this team heads to Paris for the Prix de Dianne, a 1 million Euro grade 1 stakes race. For these folks, "the sport of champions" is their life.

5:35 p.m.: Drove to the window to put in a $50 win on Omayad and a $2 exacta box with 1-6-7. Then drove hard to the buffet like Lebron James drives to the hole.

5:47 p.m.: Couldn't have been much further off on this one. In a seven-horse race, none of my horses hit the money. There goes those profits.

Result: -$62.00. Current bankroll: $402.60

5:52 p.m.: Believe it or not, I'm still not settled on my actual Belmont Stakes bets. Time to go back to work.

For the record, part 4: Everyone who is anyone is now back in the Turf and Field Club. Shocker.

6:24 p.m.: My bets are in for the feature: $50 win on #5 Dullahan. $10 exacta for 5 over 1-2-9-10 and 1-2-9-10 over 5. Lot of money on the line, and fingers crossed. New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin might have cursed me when he grabbed the mic to announce, "Riders Up."

6:45 p.m.: If you watched the race, you know by now that I never stood a chance. Dullahan got stuck in traffic and didn't have any kick in the stretch. Paynter nearly went wire-to-wire, only to be edged by Union Rags.

My Belmont adventure is now over and though my pockets are a little lighter, I think it was a worthy price to pay for such an incredible time. I may feel a bit cursed by the New York football teams, but even that can't overshadow one incredible day at Belmont.

Result: -$140.00. Final bankroll: $262.60