All was right with the world at Belmont Park on Saturday before the Belmont Stakes, the main event. The sun was shining on the sprawling track, with not a hint of rain in the forecast.
People, laughing and smiling, strolled off LIRR trains that were running on time. Many were dressed in summer clothes, with some men wearing pastel-colored blazers and bow ties, and women in brightly colored floppy hats and fascinators, others opting for flowy dresses and sun hats.
Dani Martinson, 31, of Manhattan, sported a black lace fascinator, which she had ordered online. She was a little disappointed not to see another Triple Crown race but said Saturday’s clear skies nearly made up for it.
“We’re here to have a good time and have some Belmont Jewel [cocktails],” she said. “It’s a beautiful day at the track.”
Joyce Eroh had on a sun hat covered in artificial geraniums and peacock feathers that she made 10 years ago for the first time she attended the Belmont Stakes.
Every year since, she’s come to the racetrack from Pittsburgh with her family and has made several more hats for friends. She pinned cloth sunflowers onto the brim of one and arranged delicate pink flowers on another.
The more serious fans carried programs under their arms with binoculars around their necks.
Eric Corngold and Scott Luksh, both from Brooklyn, tracked the horses with their binoculars in the day’s sixth race.
They said it was a tough day to make money at the track, as the favorites were all seeming to deliver, but were still enjoying themselves.
“There’s been a lot of great racing so far, and anything can still happen,” Luksh said.
By midafternoon the grounds were crowded. Casual observers leaned against the railing, posing for pictures near the track and sipping gin drinks served in Mason jars.
And as the parking lot started to fill and the song "God Bless America" floated in the warm air, Elaine Diefenderfer, 70, of Maryland, said she had a foolproof betting method.
“It’s our secret bet,” she said of her plans for the big race. “We bet $2 on every horse in the Belmont Stakes. We always come out a winner.”
Her son-in-law, Andrew Clark, 43, of Washington, D.C., said he took issue with that plan because it took the risk out of betting.
“I won’t place that bet for her,” he said.
His wife, Beth Pontius, 37, said coming to Belmont was one of the birthday presents for her mother. They had already taken her to the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness this year.
“The hard part has been coming up with a different outfit for each race,” Pontius said.
Speaking of spiffy sartorial choices, Vinny Blond and his wife, Brittany, were looking racetrack-ready in their outfits.
Vinny Blond, 28, had a green "mint julep" bow tie, which nattily set off his light green blazer.
Brittany Blond, 27, had a set of white pearls accenting the collar of her yellow and white dress, and a cream-colored fascinator that had a whimsical, wispy quality.
The couple came down from Saratoga Springs, where they are horse-racing regulars. “I love to watch the people and what they’re wearing,” she said. “He’s more the betting guy.”
Her husband agreed, adding that this day was filled with “big name” horses. He’s looking to lay some money down on Thunder Snow in the Met Mile race.
Vinny Blond said he expected to spend a couple of hundred bucks Saturday. But that, of course, will be offset by all the money he expects to win.
Judy Paul’s hat, which she made herself, was an all-out horse-racing fan extravaganza. People at Belmont stopped her just to take a photo with her and the hat.
It was big and pink, with a pretty pink rose and a tasteful amount of blue ribbon. She also pinned some dollar bills to it since, she said, “I don’t come here to just wear the hat.”
She loves to bet and has budgeted herself almost $200 to wager.
The Belmont has a real friendly air about it, she said. Paul met some folks, she said, from a foreign country whom she taught to bet. A guy saw her hat and gave her a fake million dollar bill to add to the frivolity atop her head.
Paul, 68, of Gainesville, Georgia, has been a horse racing buff for years. She used to take off some Thursdays because it was Ladies Day at the track.
She was placing bets on every race. She won $500 at the Kentucky Derby. Not at the track, but at the casino. She’s been using that money to bet at Belmont over the past two days.
With about a half-hour between each race, people had lots of time to socialize and eat and drink. Prices were about what you'd expect at such a high-toned event: 20-ounce bottle of water, $6, 16-ounce domestic beer, $11, and a sausage-and-pepper hero, $14.
Ron Subdhan, 28, of Queens Village, came with his brothers and some friends. And he was having a blast, celebrating his big win in the first race.
“I bet $24 and made $74,” he said.
He and his buds were also happily admiring the women walking by all dressed up.
“It’s a social occasion,” he said.
Tom Sweetman, 57, came up from Delaware, where he goes to the track twice a week. He was impressed with Belmont.
With a handful of betting tickets and a race program in his hands, he praised the quality of the horses.
“The best of the best,” he said.
Ten minutes before the third race of the day, Sam Grossman played the traditional “Call to the Post,” the 30-second tune summoning the horses to the starting line.
Grossman, who lived in Huntington before retiring to Florida, has been a professional bugler at the Belmont Stakes since 1993. He officially retired from the post last year but officials requested he make an appearance at this year’s race, which happened to fall on his birthday.
“It’s the greatest blessing of my life that I get to do this,” he said.
When the main event kicked off, there were others fortunate, too.
Anthony Dillard leaned over the railing at the grandstand, cheering, during the final stretch: “Come on, 10!”
Dillard of Franklinville, New Jersey, had put money on Tacitus, the hometown horse wearing number 10, and the favorite. The gray colt was edged out by Sir Winston, but Dillard wasn’t upset.
He put an arm around his wife, Jennifer Dillard, took a puff of his cigar and informed her he had made a backup bet on Sir Winston.
“We’re still getting a little money,” Dillard said.