The biggest sports event in New York this weekend won’t be at Citi Field for the Mets’ three-game home stand against the Marlins but a half hour away in Elmont, N.Y. for the 145th running of the Belmont Stakes.
The third jewel in horse racing’s Triple Crown, the race is being touted as a battle between Kentucky Derby-winner Orb and Preakness-winner Oxbow. But the day at the races is much more than that and much more than one race.
Everything you should know about the Belmont Stakes:
Getting there — The Long Island Rail Road is likely the best bet for your day at Belmont Park, with special trains running out of Penn Station. If you’re going to drive, make sure to get there early as traffic does back up on the Cross Island Parkway and make sure to stake out a spot near the gate for a quick exit. It may mean a longer walk to the park but it ends up saving you from idling your way out at the end of the day. Shuttle buses are always zipping around to shorten your walk. General parking is $10.
Getting in — General admission for the Belmont Stakes is $10, which gets you into the facility but doesn’t ensure you a seat. Tickets in the upper grandstand go for as little as $25 but those seats are in the upper rows, making it a difficult view of the finish line. If you want to splurge, there are good options at $50 in the third tier, where you can see the final turn and finish develop nicely. Or if you want a taste of the high rollers with the owners, you can get a $65 grandstand seat just a few sections down from where the owners sit.
Early in day, make sure once to go down along the rail and see a finish up close. It is along the rail that most people get caught with a love of the sport. But make sure to take in a race from a higher vantage point so you can see how it develops.
How to dress – If you take the LIRR in for the race, you’ll spot the attendees quite easily. Women with big hats and sundresses with heels are the norm, with men wearing seersucker suits and derby hats. It is a day to dress a little ridiculous and go back to a simpler era, when horse racing was the “sport of kings.”
It is recommended women bring flats as a backup. Men, go with a bow tie and suspenders.
What to get — Make sure to pick up a copy of the Daily Racing Forum when you enter, as this will be your wagering guide for the day. Compare horses in their past races and look at the quality of competition they face before parting with your money at the window. This kind of research can help you make an educated wager. It is also just plain fun.
What to do — Stakes Day is much more than just the big race. The first race of the day is 11:35 a.m., which means you get to practice your trifectas and exactas well before the likes or Orb and Oxbow make their way onto the dirt. But there is also plenty to explore at historic Belmont Park, which still looks and feels much like it did 75 years ago when horse racing was up there with baseball as the biggest of sports. The Backyard area offers a picnic setting with bands, food and plenty of space to set up with your group. But you will be watching the race on monitors from there.
Make sure to check out the paddock area to see the horses presented before the post parade and check out some of the statues and monuments surrounding the history of the sport.
For that Facebook profile picture to remember the day, hang out near the finish line and grab a photo with the incomparable Sam the Bugler, who does the call to the races on this day. In addition, Augie the Belmont Stakes mascot is always wandering around, looking for an opportunity to be snapped by your camera phone.
The Backyard area also offers a wealth of opportunities, including a gift shop, and there is plenty of memorabilia in case you want a piece of horse-racing history.
What to eat — Of course, a long day at the races is enough to make you hungry, and Belmont offers a variety of things for your discerning palate — but it might lighten your wallet more than a typical wager. The Belmont Stakes is not the cheapest day to eat but the aforementioned Backyard area offers some moderately priced options such as Chinese food, pulled pork, burgers and the like. Usually lines aren’t too bad there. The Heritage Club Food Court on the third floor is tucked away and service is fast, even if the food is pedestrian.
What to see — There are a slew of races on tap Saturday, with the 11:35 a.m. race starting things off and the Belmont Stakes at 6:36 p.m. providing a cap to a long day at the races. But make sure to check out some of the graded stakes races featuring top horses and big purses, including the True North, Longines Just a Game and then the Woody Stephens and Woodford Reserve Manhattan right before the Stakes race. These races are always competitive.
Follow Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.