Sunday, June 08, 2003

June 7: Well, we're here at Belmont Park. :o) It's about 20 minutes till the 9th race as I write, and the Belmont Stakes is the 11th race. It has rained nonstop all day. Not surprisingly, the track is classified as "sloppy". Personally, I think that doesn't even BEGIN to describe it. The track is so waterlogged, it's as reflective as the surface of the ice in a rink, a few minutes after the Zamboni has passed. I've been praying to St. Francis of Assisi to keep all the horses and humans safe on this treacherous-looking surface.

I noticed something interesting: after the horses run across the wet ground, birds flock down to where their hooves disturbed the earth. I think they're looking for worms that might have been exposed when the clods of earth were dug up by the horses' passing. They forage in the hoofprints until the tractors drive through with big flat plates behind them, to smooth the track out again. (Mark and I were calling those things "track Zambonis".)

Mark bet $5 on Funny Cide. If Funny Cide wins, he'll be the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
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OK, it's now the next day (June 8). I was able to begin writing June 7 post while I was at the track, but I didn't get the chance to finish composing it until now.

I finally got Blogger to post my Friday 6/6 entry, and on top of that, my experiment worked. I posted it from the car as Mark drove us home. Toys are fun. So are wireless modems whe you find them at a REALLY low price on eBay. There's a certain amount of amusement in being a geek, when you realize you're sending posts to the internet from I-95. ;o)

Anyway, as the history books will show, Funny Cide did not win the Triple Crown. His fellow NYers are still downright proud of him, though. After the race, everywhere you went in Belmont Park, you could hear people dissecting what happened.

On the concourse:
"Funny Cide is STILL the superior horse!"
"Yeah, but the superior horse doesn't always win..."

In the line for the ladies' room:
"I bet on Empire Maker to win. I'm glad I won, but I feel bad for Jimmy 'cause that was HIS horse, ya know?"
"Well, he only knows a good bet after the race is over, anyway."
(both ladies burst out laughing)

In the gift shop:
"I don't know what happened to him. I just don't understand it!"
I was tempted to volunteer that the sodden weather and the wretched track conditions are probably what happened, but this fan was so distraught that I decided to just keep my mouth shut. The poor guy's tone was reminiscent of the fans of any favored team that's eliminated from the playoffs by a lesser rival; anyone who tried to interject logic at that moment would have been at risk of getting any souvenirs within his arm's reach flung at them.

Anyway, the Belmont Stakes were by far NOT the only excitement we had yesterday. We were watching the races from the concourse, in the standing-room-only area behind the grandstand seats. There's a rail after the last row of the grandstand, and fans can stand there to view races. There were fans who'd come early and staked their claim on the places immediately behind the railing, hours before the featured race of the day. Mark and I (and Hat Trick :o) ) were in the second "row" of fans, standing behind the people who'd claimed spaces right at the railing. Fine. The people in front were considerate about making sure that short people like me had a decent viewing angle.

The Belmont Stakes were the 11th race, but the concourse adventures began shortly before the 10th race. Some drunk, pudgy, medium-height guy must have scoped the crowd to see whom he might be able to barge in front of. Apparently, he settled on the area where I stood, with three women in front of me (including two who are as short as I am). Maybe he thought he could shove small women aside without difficulty. WRONG.

Just before the race began, suddenly I felt Mister Barge-In trying to muscle his way past me and the small women in front of me. "EXCUSE ME", he declared loudly, as if that made it all right to shoulder his way to the railing, displacing people who'd been standing there all day.

I just looked straight at the guy, and didn't give way for him even one inch. "The stairs", I stated flatly, "are over THERE". I indicated the stairs that lead down into the grandstand area, about five feet to our left. I was implying that SURELY he was looking for the stairs, and not trying to bully past the people at the rail. Mr. Barge-In seemed to halfway get the hint. He paused a moment, then said, "Excuse me" less loudly than before, but with another tentative push.

That did it. My Calabrese temper rose to the surface. I have a particular glare which I reserve for obnoxious drivers, the sort of baleful look that causes a layer of frost to form where my gaze falls. I also have a corresponding tone of voice which causes the temperature within a five-foot radius of me to momentarily drop about 10 degrees. I turned both of these full-force on Mr. Barge-In. "The STAIRS are over THERE," I intoned ominously, with the most frostbite-inducing demeanor I could muster.

The Glare of Death and the Voice of Mayhem did the trick. Mr. Barge-In gave up, as all bullies do, when he realized he faced actual resistance. "Uh, I'm sorry", he mumbed, "I [foul]ed up". He backed away (yes, backed), and quickly vanished into the rapidly increasing crowd of people on the concourse.

And what a crowd it was! There were about 100,000 people in attendance, and it seems that the vast majority of them were on the concourse. For most of the afternoon, the people standing watching races at the railing was about three and four deep. When the pre-race post parade began, the crowd rapidly surged in number. At least four additional rows of viewers suddenly formed behind us. They all pushed forward hard, simulteneously, trying to create a viewing angle where they could see the track. It was like standing in the ocean, facing the beach, and being swamped abruptly from behind by a large, strong wave; it's a wonder that I didn't see anyone get knocked down by the suddenness of the crowd's forward press.

Fortunately, I didn't lose my balance, but I did collide with the people in front of me. "I'm sorry about that,", I told them, "but I was just slammed by people behind me". They understood. I got the impression that they've been to Belmont before and the crowd's behavior didn't surprise them. From then until the race was over, I divided my energies between watching, cheering, and standing my ground so I wouldn't be shoved into the people at the rail again. Heck, at least I *could* move forward if I had to. The people standing in front of me had no such option, and would be squashed against the railing if the crowd behind us all got out of hand.

Even though I was partly focused on dealing with the yahoos behind me, OH, that race was exciting! Just being part of such an enthused crowd was amazing. When Funny Cide took an early lead, the crowd's roar was deafening. "Aah, look, he's in the lead!", I yelled to Mark.

Mark's enthusiasm was tempered. "It's a LONG race." I knew he was right, but I hoped Funny Cide could keep right on outrunning the rest of the field. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. Empire Maker turned into an empire breaker, and denied Funny Cide a Triple Crown victory. I felt sorry for Funny Cide's fans, who were pretty glum after seeing their horse lose. However, I don't follow racing closely enough to live and die with various horses' results, so I was able to just enjoy being there no matter what happened.

I'd definitely go to Belmont again. However, next time, if we're unable to get reserved seats, and avoid the mob scene on the concourse, then I'll have to invest in some hockey elbow pads. That way, I can lay into people behind me who shove forward, if I need to. That ought to be an effective deterrent. ;o)

P.S. Here's my mortifying moment of the day. We were searching for the gift shop after the Belmont Stakes race ended. I thought I'd ask the long-haired, blond teenager at one of the concourse concession stands. The concession worker's back was to me originally, and so I *presumed* that the slender kid with the lovely, long, straight blond hair was female. "Miss, where is the gift shop?"

Imagine my astonishment when the concession worker turned to face me and answered in an unmistakeably deep MALE voice, "I don't know". Aieeee, how embarrassing of a mistake was THAT? LOL. Fortunately, the kid seemed totally unaffected by my gaffe, so either he's skilled at keeping a straight face in all circumstances, or that's not the first time he's been mistakenly adressed as "Miss". Yikes, though -- I beat a hasty retreat from the concession stand, believe me! LOL, from now on, I think I'll just begin my requests for directions with "Excuse me", instead of "Miss" or Sir". ;o)

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