You have to get up pretty early in the morning if you want to see the horses exercise at Belmont. On a recent Saturday at 8 a.m., about 20 early risers arrived hours before the betting windows opened. Their reward: a view of the vast emerald green track in the morning sunlight, as glistening thoroughbreds and their riders passed within inches of the railing.
Donna Brady, 53, of Baldwin, and other members of her family, were among the small crowd of spectators standing by the railing.
"I thought it would be nice for the kids," said Brady, whose nephews looked mesmerized as the horses galloped past. "They love animals."
About the tour
Breakfast at Belmont has been a tradition for years, offering visitors an inside peek at what goes on at the track before the horses are running the races. It's informal, family-friendly and shows a unique side of a historic attraction. Belmont, which opened in 1905, is the scene each June of the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of thoroughbred horse racing's Triple Crown. Every Triple Crown champion, and a number of near-winners, has raced at the facility located at the Nassau-Queens border.
Tour-goers can first grab a bite inside the Belmont Café, a cafeteria-style eatery with a view of the track. It costs $3.50 for scrambled eggs and bacon, $2.25 for pancakes and $2 for a cup of coffee.
Then, you can take your meal outside, or, like Ken Rott, 61, a furniture salesman from Levittown, and his son, Nicholas, 31, eat your eggs at an indoor cafe table.
"It's very relaxing," Nicholas says after the two finish breakfast and walk outside to sit on one of the green benches. "This is our third time -- it's such a beautiful event," the elder Rott says.
After watching the horses -- every thoroughbred not racing that day gets daily exercise between 5 and 10 a.m. -- you can take the tram ride on a tour of the stable area. Your visit finishes with a starting-gate demonstration.
What you'll see
About eight spectators took the tram ride, a 20-minute meander through the part of the track where the horses are stabled, bathed and cared for. The tram is itself a historic vehicle used at the 1964-65 World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, Germaine Greco, the tour leader, explains over the public address system. Spectators learn about a typical day in the life of the 2,000 thoroughbreds training here year-round, Greco says.
On the tram ride, you'll hear tales of thoroughbreds who've raced here, including 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, and Smarty Jones, who lost a Triple Crown bid in 2004. In addition to thoroughbreds everywhere you look, the tram also chugs past hot houses where the flowers that decorate the track are grown, as well as the Belmont Equine Surgical Clinic.
The tram drops you off near the grandstand for a demonstration of the red starting gate.
Phyllis Kramer, 51, of Bayside was impressed with Belmont's history and architecture.
"It's part of Old New York," she says. "There's something glorious about the bygone era of the 1920s."