At OTB in Plainview, bettors 'got caught up' in Chrome fervor

Fans watch an early horse race at Belmont

Fans watch an early horse race at Belmont Park on Saturday, June 7, 2014. (Credit: AP / Mark Lennihan)

For a few seconds during the final stretch of the Belmont Stakes, it seemed like every patron at Race Palace in Plainview had money riding on California Chrome.

Twenty miles from Belmont Park, shouts of "Come on, Chrome!" filled the Nassau Downs OTB teletheater as the Triple Crown contender and his competitors flashed by on overhead screens.

Then the crowd fell silent as three horses finished ahead of the colt.

"This was the test of champions, and unfortunately he didn't have it," said Joe Palumbo, 71, of Massapequa, a veteran of the OTB site.

Palumbo said he initially favored other horses but his "emotions took over" and he eventually bet on Chrome. "I got caught up in the situation," he said.

Even patrons who did bet on other horses, such as Ride on Curlin, Wicked Strong or eventual winner Tonalist, said they had hoped to see Chrome deliver their beloved sport a historic victory.

"A Triple Crown hasn't happened in 30-some-odd years," said Rich Orlando, 74, of Bay Shore, after he placed a bet at the counter Saturday afternoon. "It's good for racing."

"If this horse wins, I guarantee they make a movie of it," Bob Conlin, 75, of Huntington said before the big race. "It's a wonderful story."

Roughly 900 people passed through Race Palace, typically the busiest of Nassau Downs OTB's seven branches Saturday, said John O'Connor, the site's manager.

This Belmont Stakes, boosted by the Triple Crown bid, drew about double the crowd on a typical Saturday, he said.

Throughout the day, patrons sat side by side at betting consoles, lined up at the counter or pored over sheets filled with data as they staked out bets.

O'Connor said the bustling scene harked back to a better era for horse racing.

"It's a good day," he said after the race. "It got the young people out."

Nassau Downs OTB president Joseph Cairo said he expected Chrome's bid would provide a financial boost to the quasi-public betting corporation, which, like its counterparts nationwide, has struggled with declining interest and competition from casinos and online gambling.

"OTB is a dying industry, it has been for years," Cairo said. "We've been holding our own, but it's been difficult. When you get to the Triple Crown races, it's big. When you have the opportunity to have a Triple Crown winner, it just magnifies it."

Chrome's story added to the allure, said Steve Phillips, a handicapper for Nassau Downs OTB.

"California Chrome is what you might call a people's horse," Phillips said. "Very inexpensive, very pedestrian-bred horse running against a bunch of blue bloods. It's a real feel-good story."

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