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Belmont Stakes: Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky talks up new arena

Islanders owner Jon Ledecky makes a prepared statement

Islanders owner Jon Ledecky makes a prepared statement during a news conference at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow on April 9, 2018. Photo Credit: James Escher

It was a day of mingling for Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky, who, if all goes well, will have his team playing at a new, state-of-the-art arena at Belmont Park in 2021.

“I think this can be a project that can really become, if we do it correctly, one of the great entertainment venues,” Le decky said. “An entertainment district.”

Wearing a blue suit and an Islanders’ pin, Ledecky went from an NBC Sports Network interview to the winner’s circle to a VIP club, where NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and former Yankees manager Joe Torre were among the crowd.

But Ledecky said the most encouraging moments came as he walked through the public areas at Belmont and was continually stopped.

“They’d say, ‘thanks for coming here,’ ” Ledecky said of the Islanders’ expected move, “and congratulations on Lou.”

That would be newly hired president of hockey operations and general manager Lou Lamoriello, who previously led the Devils to three Stanley Cups.

Ledecky, attending his second Belmont Stakes while hoping to see his first Triple Crown winner, was also one of three grand marshals for the Elmont Day Parade the previous Saturday, which included an Islanders float and the team’s Sparky the Dragon mascot, who was also in attendance at Belmont this week.

— Andrew Gross

Far from Kentucky home

Seeing Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari in Louisville, at the Kentucky Derby, would make perfect sense. But here, at the Belmont Stakes? Isn’t that a long way from Lexington, Kentucky?

“A Triple Crown? Come on. A chance to watch it?’’ Coach Cal said moments before Justify became the 13th Triple Crown winner. “I watched American Pharoah, had a chance to meet [trainer] Bob Baffert there — met him here. Last time, I took a picture with him and his son; this time he took a picture with me and my son. So it’s kind of neat.’’

Calipari said he is friendly with the folks at Winstar, which is among the owners of Justify, and since he summers at the Jersey Shore, he was close enough to take a ride over to Elmont for the big event. In the paddock before the race, he went over to where the horses made their entrance and did what everybody else did — he took out his smartphone, raised his arm up and took a picture. In this game, he’s a fan, and nothing more.

“I don’t have time,’’ he said when asked if he’s involved with horse racing down in Kentucky. “This is like a sport now. You can just give money to do it — and I don’t like sharing my money — or you can be in and do it.”

— Colin Stephenson

Gronk crazy about Gronk

Man Gronk met Horse Gronk, and horse racing will never be the same.

The Patriots’ tight end turned pop culture phenomenon descended on the Belmont Stakes on Saturday afternoon to meet the 3-year-old colt named after him. Gronkowski (the horse) was slated to run the Kentucky Derby before being forced to pull out and didn’t run in the Preakness, making this his only Triple Crown race. And Gronkowski (the human) pulled some serious strings to see him: riding in from Massachusetts on a private jet.

“This guy’s a beast,” the human Gronkowski said of the . . . uh . . . beast Gronkowski. “It’s a cool experience. It makes it special because the horse was named after me and now meeting the owner and meeting the trainer and meeting everyone involved, it makes me more passionate about the race because you’re involved in it.”

Horse Gronk was not made available for comment.

Gronkowski said he was planning to bet on his horse, a 24-1 underdog who finished second. And Gronkowski stood to benefit in other ways: He actually got a stake in the horse after he learned he was his namesake about a year ago.

“Now I am,” he said, when asked if he was a horse racing fan. “He’s running well. He’s doing great. The prelims were unbelievable.”

After that, man finally got his chance to meet beast, athlete to athlete.

— LAURA ALBANESE

A Noble gesture

Fred Hart, an 80-year-old Jericho resident, owned the late Noble Maz, the mother of Belmont long shot Noble Indy. Hart was fired up to watch his grandson, one species removed, compete in “The Test of the Champion.”

“With blinkers off, I think Noble Indy can relax, get a good position early and shock the racing world,” Hart said in an email to Newsday. “It should be a memorable day.”

Noble Indy, a 23-1 shot, finished dead last, nearly 54 lengths behind Justify.

— Ed McNamara

A win, then a great loss

Prince Lucky paid $30 to win in the Easy Goer, the first of the day’s 10 consecutive stakes. People who bet on him felt lucky, but you might consider the Prince quite unfortunate. This spring he underwent the ultimate equipment change, also known as the unkindest cut of all.

— Ed McNamara

Bigger than a Super Bowl

In the paddock before Justify won the Belmont Stakes and became the 13th horse to win the Triple Crown, Giants part-owner Chris Mara admitted he was really nervous about Justify’s chances of winning the race.

“Well, I can tell you, as of about 6:30 this morning, this has been the most nerve-wracking day I’ve ever had in my life,’’ said Mara, who is part of the syndicate that owns Justify. “I just think it all builds up, because you’ve gone from the Derby to the Preakness to this — this is, I mean, the Triple Crown, there’s only been 12 of them in history. There’s been a lot of Super Bowl winners in history. We’ve been one of them four times, which has been great, but this is something special.’’

Mara said he knew from the first time he saw Justify run that winning the Triple Crown would be a possibility.

“When I got involved, back in March, the horse ran on my birthday, March 11th, and blew the whole field away, by [6 12] lengths,’’ Mara said. “I said to myself, ‘This horse has got a chance.’ ”

— Colin stephenson

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