A Justifiably Great Day
by Peter Kravitz
The founder and publisher of Silver Sage Magazine loves the ponies. Dr. Tracy Hill has gone to the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes, and this year she asked my wife and me to join her and her partner, Rodney Reynolds, at the 150th running of the Belmont. I’ve enjoyed the big three races on TV, especially when one of the thoroughbreds was chasing the Triple Crown. Yet, as a 27-year Long Island resident intimately familiar with the area’s transportation scene, all I could think about was the hassle: the crowds, the packed trains, stalled parkways and clogged parking lots.
But Tracy convinced me that it would be a great day, so on June 9, my wife and I set off promptly. Predictably, we were soon stuck in a claustrophobic nightmare, trapped on a train at the Long Island Rail Road’s Jamaica station due to signaling problems. We sat on track 4 for about an hour before I decided to text Tracy. She and Rodney had left Pennsylvania several hours before, so I supposed she was at the racetrack, but of course she was also at Jamaica station, stuck on a train on track 5. We found each other and waited impatiently together.
Once we got to Belmont, taking about three hours for a 45-minute trip, the blue skies and green infield lifted our spirits. The crowd had that huge sporting-event buzz that I’d experienced a few times – Phillies v Royals World Series game 6 in 1980, Yankees v Padres World Series game 1 in 1998, Flyers v Islanders Stanley Cup semifinal game 7 in 1975, Wisconsin v No. 1-ranked Ohio State on the gridiron in Madison in 2010.
Women wore dresses and fancy hats – not quite Kentucky Derby-esque but nice—and most of the 90,327 fans clearly hoped that Justify would make history. Since Citation in 1948, only four horses had achieved the Triple Crown. Many had won the Derby and the Preakness only to come up short at the Belmont, the longest Triple Crown race at a mile and a half.
I went off to the betting window. Until my father-in-law introduced me to gambling a decade ago, I had never bet. Now, I’ll go to Vegas and bet on sports, though I’ve only been successful with the Masters golf tournament. I’ve nailed the winner three out of the last six years, including the 150 to 1 longshot Danny Willet in 2016, netting $4500 on a $30 bet. While chatting with seasoned handicappers in line, I got it in my head to pick an exacta and went for Justify and the No. 3 horse, Hofburg.
Of course, Gronkowski (the horse) got in the way, just like Gronkowski (the man) almost did in the Super Bowl where he nearly stole the title from my beloved Eagles by out jumping the entire Eagles’ defense in the end zone and almost grabbing a last-second TD pass that would have been followed by a conversion and an O.T. Patriots win over the Eagles.
But Gronk the man faltered in February.
Gronk the horse, (part-owned by Gronk the man) who was in attendance on this spectacular day, running his first-ever race on dirt at 24-1, came from dead last and passed Hofburg late to steal a huge payday from me. But Tracy came out a winner. Though she only had $23 in cash she put her load on Justify.
The Belmont was the 11th and the featured race. Tracy had a press pass that got us all into a reserved seating area at the stretch. As the excitement mounted, the horses trotted down the stretch and around the final turn to warm up. Justify and his 52-year-old jockey Mike Smith ambled by, and I was smitten by the beauty and relaxed confidence of the big chestnut colt, who Newsday’s Andrew Gross called a “thundering ballerina.”
And suddenly they were off. Justify galloped to a thrilling wire-to-wire victory. Tracy kept screaming that we’d just witnessed history. Forty-five years to the day after Secretariat flew to a 31-length win over rival Sham to take the Triple Crown, Justify held off Gronkowski by more than a length and a half to capture the 13th Triple Crown.
We ended the evening at an adorable little Nassau County hamlet and found a delightful little Italian restaurant, Poppy’s Place. We toasted Justify and the horseracing history we’d just witnessed.
In the end, Tracy and my wife were right, and I was totally wrong. We all had a great day— despite the LIRR.
Peter Kravitz is the author of So You Wanna Be a Teacher, a former Philadelphia reporter and retired New York public high school Journalism teacher. He's a regular contributor to Silver Sage Magazine.