Eager crowds gear up for Belmont Stakes

Horse racing fans watching the finish of the

Horse racing fans watching the finish of the 7th race at Belmont Park in Elmont. (June 1, 2013) (Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.)

One week before the 145th running of the Belmont Stakes, the buzz is back in Elmont.

Crowds of betters and revelers sifted between the stands and the paddock at Belmont Park on Saturday, placing their bets on horses running in the park's "Big Apple Showcase Day," a series highlighting horses bred in New York.

They drank beer, picnicked, listened to live music and intermittently honed in on the TV screens set up on the park's massive lawn with nervous intensity. In the stands facing the track, kids were hoisted onto parents' shoulders to get a better look at the horses as they careened down the home stretch.

It was a busy day at the track, but bartender Mike Motherway, who works at the Crop & Saddle Pub in the park, said they're ramping up for next week -- even though there is no Triple Crown contender this year, the Saturday of the Belmont Stakes is always a huge draw for the park and its concessions.

"Whatever you're going to serve, it's going to be double that weekend," Motherway said. "So you have to stock up."

Last year's potential for a Triple Crown victory -- before Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another was scratched from the race -- helped bring 85,811 revelers to Belmont Park, but some regulars said they expect it to be quieter this year.

Michael Haffner and Kim Tafolla, both of Centereach, said they come about twice a month to Belmont Park to bet on horses, enjoy the live music and atmosphere, and get away from their kids. They said they'll be back next year -- Haffner said he has his money on Overanalyze.

"They're not going for a Triple Crown this year, so it's going to be a lot quieter," Haffner said, then gestured to Tafolla. "She likes it when it's a little crazy."

Some came to Belmont Park for the first time Saturday. Domingo Rodriguez of Queens exploded into celebration at the rail with his son Justin, 10, as their chosen horse, Readtheprospectus, cruised past the finish post to win the eighth race of the day -- a solid 40th birthday present, he said.

"We've won back to back races so far," Rodriguez said.

And will they be returning for the Belmont Stakes next week?

"It's looking good," he said. "It's looking very good."

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