Although I grew up minutes away from the Belmont Racetrack, I’d never been inside until yesterday. I joined Oldest Niece, her friends and my daughter as we celebrated my niece’s birthday, at her request, at the Belmont Stakes horse race.
It was quite the education:
- Hat-wearing isn’t a thing here in my part of the United States. Sure, baseball and trucker caps are ubiquitous, and sun hats are sensible, but I now know who wears those elaborate hats and cute fascinators that I try on, but never buy, in department stores. The women’s hats were huge and the fascinators elaborate. I wore a straw fedora because, hey, that’s what I owned. The other attendees’ headgear, however, festively matched the wearers’ dresses.
- I wore white jeans. I thought I was adequately dressed until I saw the gorgeous dresses on the hat-wearing women waiting for the Belmont train. They ranged from sundress to cocktail to club styles, mostly sexy, all covetable. Too late to change, I was grateful that I at least wore a pretty top that matched my little hat.
- I was also glad I wore dressy, wedge-heeled sandals…until they started to hurt. At one point I visited the First Aid station for gauze to wrap around my toes, but I really couldn’t do anything about the blister forming under my left foot.
- The men dressed pretty flamboyantly by local standards. (which is to say, they wore colors other than black, white and blue.) Slacks, jeans and Bermuda-length shorts in green or light-red shades. Suits with prints that weren’t pinstripes. One guy’s suit fabric was printed to look like money. Another suit was a sort of puffy orange thing that reminded me of a pumpkin. I could have sworn I saw patchwork-print pants.
- I always imagined horse-racing fans as cigar-chomping older men desperately watching overhead TV monitors in litter-strewn betting parlors. In fact, most of the people attending the Belmont Stakes seemed to be in their late-twenties to late-thirties, wandering about with their drinks like they were at a giant cocktail party that featured horses. I was right about the cigars, though.
- I now know that I’m not the probabilities prodigy I imagined myself to be. I read up on horse race betting the night before, even writing a note-to-self with my top three picks to win the main race. Pick one scratched before the race. When I saw that the odds on another horse rose between Friday night and race day, I bet on that one instead of logical pick number two. Mine didn’t even show but yep, should have stuck with my second choice. It won.
- People can be vicious on trains. (I already knew that but this selfishness surprised me.) The trip home featured a ride with my niece, both of us in extreme foot pain. As we crowded into the car, I spied a couple sitting at a three-seater. I mentioned that my young companion needed a seat but they claimed they were saving it. A few more rows later, three burly guys in a five-seater claimed the remaining two seats were for their “girlfriends” who had gone to the restroom. Bad lairs, as I know train toilets are tiny and disgusting. In the end, another passenger insisted that the couple allow my niece to take the empty seat near them and the manboys let me sit with them after I very obviously hovered over the seat.
- Bonus: I would bring binoculars to better appreciate the beauty and athleticism of the sport. Clearly seeing the horses lined up in their numerical order was difficult from the stands, and they are a speeding blur as they pass, so I relied on the big monitor on the field.
That said, we already decided that my niece will celebrate her next birthday at the Belmont Stakes. I’ll wear a pretty dress, a fancy hat and comfortable sandals. I’ll follow the horses better in the races leading up to the Stakes. I liked the idea of sharing special grownup time with this fun, smart family member before she goes back to college.
Off to the races!