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Crowds fill park for Belmont Stakes

Spectators watch the third race at Belmont Park

Spectators watch the third race at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. (June 9, 2012) Credit: AP

I'll Have Another was a scratch, but, as always, there was another massive party.

Minus the lure of a possible Triple Crown winner, 85,811 revelers still descended on Elmont Saturday for the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes.

Women in big, brimmed hats and sundresses dotted the stands, providing splashes of color under gray skies.

Hours before Union Rags nosed out Paynter in a stunning photo finish, the festivities were well under way.

As live music blared, Chris Gasiewski, of Deer Park, was barbecuing and relaxing on the grass with his fiancee and their friends.

Gasiewski, 31, has lived on Long Island his whole life, but this was his first Belmont Stakes. His disappointment over the absence of a certain horse was short-lived.

"There are great horses running, great people here, and we're having a fantastic time," he said.

On Friday, trainers announced they were withdrawing I'll Have Another, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, because of tendinitis. The 3-year-old colt, now retired, had a shot at becoming the first horse in 34 years to win the Triple Crown.

"If he hadn't been scratched, I still wouldn't have bet on him," said Sandi Morris, 51, of Coram, who also made her first pilgrimage to the Belmont Stakes. "I would have bet on a long shot."

Morris agreed with the trainers, saying it was best not to risk a serious injury by racing the colt.

Belmont officials, however, were disappointed. A few days ago, they were hoping to draw a record crowd of more than 100,000.

Behind the stadium, amid tents peddling $15 beers and $8 burgers, Boris Lipovetsky, 22, and his girlfriend, Katie Mobbs, 25, both of Hoboken, leafed through the program before the main event.

The smartly dressed couple -- he sporting a suit and tie; she a colorful summer dress -- were boning up on the field and the rules of wagering.

"I had no idea what to expect here," Mobbs said. "But I love to gamble."

With Candice Ferrette

New York Sports