Like everybody in the Northeast on the morning of June 7, I woke to the sound of rain slapping against my window. Sure, the weather forecasters had called for downpours, but this day would somehow be different (or at least I thought it had to be.) Earlier in the week, I decided to be a part of what I’d hope would be history at the Belmont Stakes.
This time seemed special, as if a higher power was holding the reins. Funny Cide, a New York-bred, owned and trained horse, had come out of nowhere at the Kentucky Derby and then won convincingly at the Preakness. So, what many people call the most difficult feat in sports – the Triple Crown – was just a mile-and-a-half away on a course where the three-year-old gelding trained. It was as close to a sure thing as it gets in horse racing.
But the rain wouldn’t cease, rendering the always traffic-choked Cross Island a virtual parking lot for the Belmont, which wasn’t faring much better. The track glistened and each freshly made hoof print quickly filled with water. But more than 100,000 people didn’t care: the hometown horse would brighten the dreariness with just one dash around the oval.
Sinatra sang “New York, New York” as the colts pranced to the gate. The start was clean, no stumbling or bumping, and Funny Cide took the lead. “Too soon … too soon,” somebody nearby shouted. When Empire Maker took the lead in the stretch, the place grew silent except for the hoofs slapping against the sloppy track and scattered cheers from the few who had put their money on the eventual winner.
So we don’t have a Triple Crown winner, but we Yankees have yet another reason to be proud. “Our horse” sure fought those rebels from Kentucky and the rest of the southern racing establishment, didn’t he?