For some, the best part of the Belmont Stakes is being there. But do you want to be among 90,000 at the track in Elmont on Saturday, June 9, as thoroughbred racehorse Justify goes for the Triple Crown?
"It’s a lot of people — we are talking packed,” says Jeff Stroehlein, 54, of Babylon, who grew up going to Belmont and lived three houses away from the mile and 1/16th part of the track. “But what a better day to go than a chance of a horse winning a Triple Crown?"
American Pharoah thrilled crowds in 2015 when he became the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. Three years later, Belmont fans are hoping to witness another historic victory. “When you get a horse that has won the first two legs, the energy at Belmont is in full force,” Stroehlein says. “Everyone lets out a roar the minute those horses break from the gate.”
Reserved seats are already sold out for the Stakes — so if you want to go, you'll need a $25-$30 general admission ticket for standing-room-only areas of the grandstand. There's also a backyard area behind the grandstand where people choose to spread out in a park-like setting and watch the races on flat-screens.
Here’s what you need to know:
GO EARLY It's essential to arrive before the gates open at 8:30 a.m. in order to get a prime spot in the backyard or in the grandstand. Purchase your tickets (and parking passes, if needed) via Ticketmaster in advance to save time at the gates. Any remaining general admission tickets will be sold the day of the race, cash only.
FIND A SPOT Part of the backyard experience is establishing an area for your group. Picnic tables go fast. You can bring in a beach blanket as well as lightweight aluminum or plastic folding chairs, but not umbrellas. “Making your own spot in the shade is nice because you’ll be out of the sun and you create your own little area to chill out in,” says Kevin McIntyre, 45, of East Meadow, who has been going to Belmont Park for 30 years. “If you want a picnic table, I suggest getting there at 7:30 a.m., because once they open the gates it’s a mad rush to get a table.” Stroehlein adds, “It’s fun to sit down in the fresh air on a sunny day in the backyard. They have big trees so there’s a nice country atmosphere.” The backyard also has a playground and a duck pond.
ABOUT THE VIEW There's no guarantee you'll have a view of the track. General admission ticket holders can stand on all three floors of the grandstand or apron area — space fills first-come, first served. But many remain in the backyard, where you can place bets at the windows and watch live feeds of the races. “There are TVs on stands all over the backyard,” McIntyre says. “Plus, there’s a big screen by the food trucks.”
CHECK OUT THE PADDOCK As part of the backyard area, guests can watch the horses getting saddled up before the race. “You can see the horses warming up as they are walked around,” Stroehlein says. “People check out their stride and try to read into that for their bets.”
FOOD AND DRINKS General admission ticket holders can bring their own food and nonalcoholic beverages — but there are rules. Food must be in clear containers measuring no more than 28 inches by 15 inches by 17 inches (and one per adult). No coolers, glass bottles, cans, backpacks, wagons or tote bags are allowed. There are food trucks in the backyard as well as bars selling beer, wine and alcohol.
AVOID THE POST-RACE RUSH Don't leave right after the big race. Let the crowd thin out by sticking around for a post-race concert by ’90s rock band Third Eye Blind instead of fighting the waves of people flowing out to the parking lot. There will also be performances by the United States Military Academy Band and the cast of the Broadway musical “A Bronx Tale” throughout the day.
150th BELMONT STAKES
WHEN | WHERE 6:37 p.m. post time (parking gates open at 8 a.m., admission gates open at 8:30 a.m.) Saturday, June 9, Belmont Park, 2150 Hempstead Turnpike in Elmont.
INFO 718-641-4700, belmontstakes.com
ADMISSION $25 ($30 starting June 1), children ages 12 and younger are free with a paid adult. $40 parking. Tickets and parking passes can be purchased through ticketmaster.com.