OUT OF LEFT FIELD
REASONS FOR LOVING
THE BELMONT STAKES
THE GREAT SECRETARIAT
...Did this great champion win for Stan at The Belmont?
My Cousin Moey
and A Love Affair
By STAN ISAACS
I am disappointed the owner decided not to run Rachel Alexandra in this Belmont Stakes. The Belmont is my favorite race and a girl-boy story, Rachel Alexandra (Preakness winner) vs. Mine That Bird (Derby winner) had shaped up as an event no less exciting than many of the attempts of horses to win the Triple Crown.
I am a fan of the Belmont Stakes, which is coming up Saturday, June 6, for the 146th time. It all began with my cousin Moey.
Moe Schatz was a degenerate horse player and chuckling, full-of-jokes, likeable guy. He worked in the New York City garment center all week so that he could make enough money to go to the track on the weekend. When there was no winter racing in New York, he would get on a bus that took horse players to the Bowie track in Maryland.
It was inevitable that Moey would take me to the track. This was on June 3, 1944, the day of the 76th Belmont Stakes. That was a time when minors were not allowed into New York tracks. I was 15 so Moey had to resort to subterfuge to get me past the ticket takers. He put a large fedora on me to make me look older.
The turnstile guy was not fooled. He said mockingly, I see him under that hat. He chuckled and let me through.
I still remember that a horse named Durability won one of the daily double races. Having been taught some rudiments of handicapping by Moey, I selected Pensive, the favorite, who had won the Kentucky Derby, in the Belmont. It was strictly a mind bet.
Pensive finished second to Bounding Home who paid the tidy sum of $34.70. I became a fan of horse racing and the Belmont Stakes. Since becoming old enough to bet by myself I have seen almost all the Belmont Stakes.
Over the years I covered many Triple Crown races. And I bet on them. Horse racing is, after all, a betting sport and it is a rare scribe who doesnt get involved. Having $2 riding on the nose of a bangtail is more dynamic involvement than the surrogate satisfaction that comes from rooting for a baseball or football team.
I cashed winning bets on, among others, Northern Dancer, Lucky Debonair and Kauai King in the Derby, and on Northern Dancer in the Preakness. It was a funny thing that up until 1973 I had not won a bet on my favorite race, the Belmont.
In 1973 when an infatuation with Secretariat had taken over the racing world. I decided I would confront my jinx. I would bet two dollars on the nose of Secretariat. If he won the race and completed a Triple Crown sweep, I would finally cash a bet on the Belmont. If he lost I would believe that even he couldnt overcome my Belmont jinx.
He won and I cashed a winning ticket worth $2.20. I was a loser anyway because in this age of sports collectibles, the ticket would be worth more if I had saved it.
I have an affection for the Belmont Stakes because it is one of the longest of all American races, a mile-and-a-half. A long race is like a developing short story. There is time to watch the enfolding drama, lock in on the favorite and the horse you may have bet on, leading up to an often stirring charge down the final straight. As I write this I can hear the signature cry of announcer Dave Johnson: And DOWN the stretch they come.
One of my remembrances is of the 1961 race won by Sherluck. I had bet on some rank outsiders in previous years, but I did not play Sherluck. He won at a return of $132.10, a little better than the 50-1 payoff on Mine That Bird in this years Kentucky Derby. The biggest longshot winner was Sarava, $142.50, in 2002.
The 1949 Belmont was won by Capot, ridden by Ted Atkinson, He was one of my favorite athletes for his erudition. Once, when asked why he had whipped his winning mount, he said, I was trying to impress upon him the urgency of the situation.
Not a Belmont story, but about a redoubtable horse player much like my cousin Moey. We knew him as Cooper; he sold advertising for the long-defunct and little remembered New York Daily Compass. He would come up to the sports department to check on race results. Once he said he had won on a horse he pronounced as Se-fock-o-lees. After a few moments we deduced that he had won on Sophocles. Yes, Se-fock-o-lees, he said.
Another horseracing note: Chateaugay, who won the 1963 Belmont as well as the Derby, was named after a small town in New York on the U.S.-Canadian border. I happened to be driving in that area a few years later. I stopped in at the general store in the middle of town and asked if anybody could tell me something about the horse, Chateaugay.
Nobody there had heard of him.
©2009 by Stan Isaacs. The Stan Isaacs caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. This column first posted June 1, 2009.
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