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Belmont Stakes gives weekend horsepower

Tapistfly, ridden by Ramon Dominguez, is led to

Tapistfly, ridden by Ramon Dominguez, is led to the track for the 8th race at Belmont during the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in Elmont. (June 9, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday Alejandra Villa

With no chance of a Triple Crown winner after Oxbow's Preakness defeat of Kentucky Derby winner Orb, this year's Belmont Stakes might seem like an also-ran.

But the Test of Champions, as Belmont has been nicknamed, can still pack thundering drama into that approximately 2 1/2-minute gallop around Belmont's 1 1/2-mile main racing course.

"It's always a very thrilling day, even if there's no Triple Crown contender," says Terry Whalen, a Floral Park resident who has attended many Belmont Stakes races.


A TRIPLE CROWN FIRST

Although there hasn't been a Triple Crown winner in 35 years (the last was Affirmed, who won all three races in 1978) history is still expected to be made. Rosie Napravnik, "the hottest jockey" in America, according to "60 Minutes," is expected to become the first female jockey to ride in all three Triple Crown races in the same year. Napravnik rode Mylute to a fifth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby and a third-place finish in the Preakness. She's expected to ride Unlimited Budget, a filly, which would be another first if she were to win in the male-dominated field.

A THOROUGHBRED REMATCH

With 14 thoroughbreds in contention, the field is larger than usual (the limit is 16 horses coming out of the gate) and includes both Derby winner Orb and Preakness winner Oxbow, says Eric Wing, director of communications for the New York Racing Association (NYRA) which operates Belmont Park. Thus, the Belmont Stakes is still a high-stakes race.

"The result of the Belmont Stakes will play a big role in determining the champion three-year-old for 2013," Wing says. If Orb or Oxbow wins the Belmont Stakes, capturing two of the three Triple Crown races, that horse stands an excellent chance of being named the Eclipse Award winner, a prestigious title, Wing explains.

SATURDAY IN THE PARK

Regardless of who's running, Stakes Day offers family fun for a crowd expected to number 60,000 to 70,000 (down from last year's 86,000, when the Preakness and Kentucky Derby winner, I'll Have Another, was withdrawn from contention a day before the race). A total of 13 races will be run (Belmont Stakes is the 11th in a long day of racing.) Visitors can picnic and listen to strolling musicians, including a barbershop quartet, at the flower-bedecked historic racetrack. Says Wing: "It's the biggest day of the year for Belmont Park, without a doubt."

THE BELMONT STAKES

When | Where 6:36 p.m. Saturday, Belmont Park, Elmont. Gates open at 8:30 a.m., with first race at 11:35 a.m.

Info 516-488-6000, belmontstakes.com

Admission $10 grandstand, $20 clubhouse, $45-$120 reserved seats; $10-$40 parking

BELMONT FESTIVALS

Looking to build a weekend around the race? The Belmont Stakes is bookended by street fests in two nearby communities:

GARDEN CITY

When 6-10 Friday night along Seventh Street

Info 516-314-9635

About 8,000 people are expected at Garden City's Belmont Festival on Seventh Street, which will be closed to vehicle traffic for a street fair featuring five performing bands (from swing to rock and roll), Irish step dancers and kiddie fun (face painting, bounce rides and more). Local restaurants set up sidewalk tables for the festival.

FLORAL PARK

When 2-7 p.m. Sunday, along Tulip and Verbena avenues

Info 516-641-1200

The day after the race, the Floral Park Belmont Festival is an afternoon of live music on two stages and more fun for the kids, including face painting, street performers and rides. Local restaurateurs will be giving out food samples.

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