Big crowd, big disappointment at Belmont

Horse racing enthusiasts at the Belmont Stakes on

Horse racing enthusiasts at the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 7, 2014. (Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa)

Disappointed fans began streaming out of Belmont's grandstands soon after Tonalist hit the wire to spoil California Chrome's bid for the history books.

A tired, sunburned Sheila Alcala moved against the throng toward her companions. "It is what it is," lamented Alcala, of Phoenix, still draped in Chrome's barn colors of purple and green, topped off with a furry, faux-horse-ears hat.

They were among the tens of thousands of spectators, many of them out-of-towners, who traveled to the 109-year-old racetrack in Elmont hoping to witness a Triple Crown for the first time in 36 years.

"It just makes you wonder if it's ever going to happen because you've had a lot of horses try it," she said.

"Chromie," as he has been affectionately nicknamed by fans, couldn't capture the final leg of the Triple Crown, which ends in the 11/2-mile Belmont Stakes race on the course known as Big Sandy.

One of Alcala's friends, Diana Carreon, said the crew would probably go back to their hotel and spend the evening watching and re-watching footage of the race.

"I'm feeling deflated," a subdued Carreon said, "but I'm so proud of him and his owners."

Despite the letdown, she proclaimed the 146th Belmont Stakes "a great day of racing."

It was a long day, too.

Fans wearing fedoras, floppy hats and summer dresses swarmed the main entrance in the morning hoping to scoop up a $10 ticket. The warm sunshine gave way to cooler temperatures in the afternoon.

Sammy Hammonds, 35, and his girlfriend, Adrienne DeMorales, 38, both of Greenville, North Carolina, arrived at Belmont's gates at 7 a.m.

The couple decided only days ago to make the journey. DeMorales is a JetBlue flight attendant, so the pair hopped a late-night flight.

They have five saddlebreds of their own and were rewarded for being early birds -- the two found spots in front of the grandstand directly across from the finish line.

"We had seen I'll Have Another and hadn't gotten excited," DeMorales said of the horse who in 2012 won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness but was scratched the day before that year's Belmont over a potential injury.

They wore custom-made T-shirts with a mix of the California flag and an homage to "Chromie."

Not everyone shared their anticipation of Triple Crown glory. East Williston's Brendan B., who wouldn't give his last name, proved prescient long before the race: He'd fanned out to friends and strangers, suggesting they avoid betting on Chrome.

"Chrome is going to come out, and . . . [the other jockeys] are going to check him, box him in, he's gonna die on the rail," the 30-year-old Army veteran of the Iraq War said. "New York jockeys aren't going to let him win."

Chrome finished in a tie for fourth place. Brendan's pick, Ride on Curlin, came in last.

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