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Hangin' with Artie and the echoes at Belmont
The roar from the 100,000-plus crowd turned to groans as Tonalist breezed across the Belmont Park finish line to end California Chrome's quest for a Triple Crown on a gorgeous Saturday.
Head out to Belmont today and you can hear a pin drop. When I went to the races earlier last week, on another beautiful day, only about 2,000 lost souls roamed the expansive grounds.
Yes, the Belmont Stakes was much heralded, and you can't expect huge crowds every day, but they can't even draw 5,000 at a prime venue on the border of New York City?
With temperatures finally summerlike and New Yorkers craving nearby, reasonably priced outdoor getaways, the New York Racing Association has dropped the ball big-time. A legendary racetrack with vast picnic grounds, where you can bet as little as $1 a race or just watch the majestic horses with the kids, would seem ideal for families.
On the weekday I visited, there were virtually no families in attendance, just small clusters of older men. "What are they doing to attract young people?" Artie, a grizzled track regular, asked me. "Where's the marketing? How about the NYRA brass come down and actually talk to us?"
I wandered around, looking for something to eat. No franchises, no decent restaurants. My new friend ranted about the lousy food. "I don't mind overpriced and tasty, or lousy and cheap, but they hit the daily double -- overpriced and lousy," Artie groused.
I marched over to an outdoor stand. It advertised the "Belmont Burger," which I've had in the past. (Don't ask.) I requested the $13.50 "value meal" -- burger, fries, drink.
"No burgers today," muttered the nearly comatose vendor.
I asked what happened to the Carvel stand.
"Gone," she mumbled.
Down about $50, I finally won an exacta. I squinted at the blurry outdoor big screen TV: $87.50. Not bad.
"No, that's a six -- it's $67.50," said Artie.
"Nah, that's an eight," argued his cigar-chomping sidekick, Tommy, who also had the exacta.
I actually collected $37.50. I took a last look around the deserted venue that at one time was at the pinnacle of horse racing, and left Belmont for the last time. I won't be back.