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At Belmont Stakes track regulars have mixed feelings

For the hundreds of workers who toil for weeks to get Belmont Park ready for what traditionally is one of the biggest dates of the horse racing calendar, the days leading up to Saturday's Belmont Stakes are very much crunch time.

But for the fans scattered throughout the grandstand Thursday, it was just another day at the races.

"I'll go home, maybe make a few bets at the OTB," said Nicholas Castoria, 81, of Forest Hills, who comes to the track about three times a week - often hours before the first race - but has never attended a Belmont Stakes and has no plans to do so. "I like it like this - peaceful and quiet."

Castoria's sentiments were echoed by several track regulars, who said that while the big-event atmosphere of Saturday's race is sure to have tens of thousands of visitors converging in Elmont, the crowds and long lines to place bets will keep them at home.

"I don't like the crowds. I come during the week and it's nice and easy," said Ted Bazarewski, 83, of Howard Beach, who has been coming to Belmont for more than 60 years. He came for the Stakes once a few years back, but got back in his car and left moments after spotting the long lines and swarms of casual fans. "They are here, like, to picnic."

Self-proclaimed traveling gambler and reggae singer Scion Success plans to be at the Belmont Saturday, but couldn't care less about all the pomp and circumstance.

"I'm not focused on the crowd. I'm focused on the gambling," said Success, of Atlanta, as he studied his Daily Racing Form from the stands Thursday afternoon. "My excitement is in making some money - and maybe looking at some of those ladies' hats."

Tommy Lee wishes people were as enthusiastic about horse racing in the days leading up to the Belmont Stakes. Lee, 39, of Fresh Meadows, bought the Belmont Diner on Hempstead Turnpike five months ago in part because of its location just across the street from the track.

But business has been slow in recent days, he said, especially without a Triple Crown on the line this year.

"I was told that Saturday is the biggest day of the year," Lee said. "But one day isn't going to make me a year."

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