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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Winning at Belmont

    NEW YORK -ÿForget basketball, football, baseball and hockey. People watching is the best sport ever, and you’re almost always guaranteed a personal victory.

    This was engrained into my mind when my roommate, Jon, and I took in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday. That’s when we went back into time, tested our luck, lost money but came out victors.

    Jon and I took the “”F”” subway train from Manhattan east to Long Island. After 50 minutes, we jumped on the Q2 bus and rode to Belmont Park. As we wound through graffiti-covered streets, I occasionally looked up from the woman with a thicker beard than I could ever grow and read a sign above the first few seats in the bus: “”Assaulting a bus operator is a felony punishable by up to 7 years in prison.””

    Lucky me. Just where I want to be.

    But when we got to Belmont Park a little before 2:30 p.m., I knew we were OK. After a $10 general admission fee, we entered the grandstand and I headed straight for the restroom. The washroom attendant was blaring Marvin Gaye’s “”Let’s Get it On,”” and seductively dancing with his mop.

    Lucky me. Just where I want to be.

    We settled in with some food. For me, it was a meaty 8-ounce burger and a coke, for which I dealt out $11 for. But that was OK. As we feasted, I watched classy men in seer sucker suits pass by, along with women in beautiful dresses and wide-brimmed hats. Mixed in were many people in street clothes and a man with a thickly-braided ponytail that fell to his calves.

    Lucky me. Just where I want to be.

    We explored the stadium and learned that there was a barbershop downstairs where you could get a haircut for $10. For about the same price you could get a beer or mixed drink. This place was an old-fashioned man’s palace. If only I had a cigar.

    At 3:15 we contributed to the millions of dollars that were wagered on one of the races that led to the main-event race. I put $5 on Raw Silk to show. Jon did the same for Diamondrella.

    His 8-to-1 odds horse won the race and paid him $8.50. My 10-to-1 horse finished a taxi ride behind.

    With about 45 minutes between each race, we made our way around all three levels of the grandstand to do more people watching. Out back, people sat on blankets, drank from their beer coolers, gawked at the horses in the winner’s circle and obsessed over the odds of their next bets.

    “”This is like NASCAR for preppy people,”” Jon said.

    But not everyone there was preppy. Jon elbowed me in the ribs when he caught me staring at the 40-something-year-old guy in shorts, flip flops and a T-shirt that revealed Sesame Street’s Ernie on his forearm.

    We each shelled out $5 for the next race. I picked Gone Astray. Jon picked Everyday Heroes, who finished second. Meanwhile, my horse’s pace was worse than Sanjaya’s musical skills.

    Lucky me. Just where I want to be.

    We each lost $5 on the next race, but that didn’t matter. We knew we were going to win all of our money back when we each put $10 on the heavily favored Mine That Bird to win the main event: The 141st running of the Belmont Stakes.

    As we squatted below eyesight of the folks who paid good money for their seats in the grandstand to see the big race, a pretty gal sang Frank Sinatra’s “”New York, New York.”” It didn’t make me want to boogie as much as the jam in the bathroom, but I felt the electricity of the race. The usher near the stairwell with the missing tooth was more excited than children in third-world countries who received T-shirts last summer that read, “”Los Angeles Lakers: 2008 NBA Finals Champions.””

    “”And they’re off,”” a voice bellowed over the loud speakers.

    Mine That Bird quickly took a back seat to the rest of the horses. As the equines ran the mile-and-a-half track, I thought about how much money was wagered during the day, despite the fact that there was a 44 percent attendance drop from last year’s race: from 94,476 to 52,861.

    We didn’t win any money that race, as Summer Bird took first place, but our people watching wasn’t over.

    As Jon and I walked back toward the Q2 bus to take us to the subway station we passed a young man who had just won a superfecta bet, meaning he picked the first four finishers in correct order. He was shaking and kept repeating how much his $3 bet would turn into -ÿmost likely around a grand.

    We kept walking, and I shook my head, thinking about how bad I was at betting, but how good I was at people watching.

    Lucky me. Just where I want to be.

    Lance Madden is a journalism senior. He can be reached at

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