ELMONT, N.Y. — Just after the 5th race Thursday at Belmont Park, the 26-12 months-antique jockey who had spent the beyond 5 days starring in a massive swirl of countrywide discourse trudged off the tune on my own. Flecks of dirt had joined his silks and cap. He looked incredibly like a guy who had simply completed 5th, which in reality he had. He walked alone and unbothered due to the fact, for one issue, so few human beings have been there to look at.
Luis Saez, who completed first inside the Kentucky Derby aboard Maximum Security before a surreal disqualification just a weekend earlier than, headed for the tunnel to the jockeys’ room, a reminder that horse racing’s bountiful eccentricities consist of the stark asymmetry among its massive days and all of the other days.
Ninety mins in advance, on a train with eight automobiles, a conductor had stated, “You’re the best passenger.” The 3:40 p.M. From Jamaica in Queens to Belmont Park on the edge of Long Island rushed and then crawled and then stopped, all in 11 mins. The doors opened to a revelation on the platform: There was yet another passenger.
Racing had started at 3:05 on a workday. The different passenger walked the lonely outdoor concourse to the second-ground entrance to the 114-12 months-vintage tune, only to discover it locked. He muttered, then descended nearby stairs to open doorways.
Belmont Park, with 9 races on the cardboard, felt ghostly.
Thursday counted as a severe, with attendance almost countable – low triple digits? – and well greater barren than a normal weekday. It additionally counted as a reminder. When jockeys and other horse-human beings end their occasional turns amongst psychedelic bacchanals with six-figure audiences which include final Saturday on the Kentucky Derby, they go back to day-to-day with a fragment of the fanfare and a collection of the enthusiasts.
Jockey John Velazquez, forty-seven, laughed briefly at that idea and stated: “There are hardcore customers, I’ll name it. They’re right here every day, irrespective of what, whether it is a large day or no longer. They’re the ones who come to the races all the time. So, yeah, so they may be the actual fans, the actual center commercial enterprise fans who come to watch the horses within the races, yeah.”
The sparse crowd appeared rich in individuals who do now not subject themselves with, say, kale and quinoa. The pretzel stand looked lonely, if friendly; the IRS stands, unattended; the binocular-condo stand, untroubled. On the days whilst horse racing does not get dressed itself up and garnish itself with plant life and fill the train structures or parking plenty – as Belmont Park itself will for the final leg of the Triple Crown on June 8 – the game’s dilapidation relative to yore feels heightened.
Yet as traditional in horse racing, names that won national renown from a historical, contentious Kentucky Derby had been sprinkled during the entry charts of an anonymous Thursday, the dissimilarity a strain to recognize: the same game!
Race 5, handbag $70,000, New York-bred three years antique and up: Aboard entry No. 1, San Juan Diego, sat Saez. Aboard No. 5, Real Dan rode Velazquez, whose Derby mount, Code of Honor, crossed the wire 0.33 and wound up 2nd. Aboard No. 6, Five Star Bunt, there has been Irad Ortiz Jr., 5th after which fourth within the Derby aboard Improbable; and on No. 7, Sicilia Mike, Jose Ortiz, fourth and then 1/3 within the Derby aboard Tacitus.
The teacher for No. Eight, H Man, might be Jason Servis – now not present at Belmont on Thursday – who just lived the otherworldly collection of receiving congratulatory hugs for a Derby win that they did not occur. As occurs at tracks day upon day in nameless fifth races, there may be a few noble strangers strolling, and here changed into the winner, 7-year-vintage gelding H Man: his 56th race, with 12 wins, 11 locations and seven indicates at four New York tracks when you consider that 2014. His sire, Musket Man, completed 0.33 inside the 2009 Mine That Bird Kentucky Derby, and if you examine his overall performance charts until your eyes soften, you may spot seven running shoes thru H Man’s years, certainly one of the two times, and claimed away twice.
“Nice horse,” stated David Cannizzo, the Saratoga-primarily based instructor who had H Man twice – for his first 14 races, then two more closings wintry weather. “Nice, stable, tough-knocking. . . . I claimed his lower back and misplaced him [back]. . . . Just a grinder.”
As for seeing him come and move, he stated: “Part of the sport. It makes you hold going. In the claiming sport, you have got to preserve turning them over.”
Down in the jockeys’ room after Race 5, a jockey moved quickly in with dirt caking his mouth. A giant electronic signal confirmed “24,” the variety of minutes till the following publish. Three jockeys accumulated before a TV to re-watch a race few had watched. The ever-disturbing scales sat just in the threshold. A painting at the wall next to it confirmed a race within the fingers of higher energy.
Saez, who appeared on national TV for much of twenty-two minutes remaining Saturday, a fraught expression upon his good-looking face at the same time as stewards reviewed tapes, on Sunday morning boarded a constitution plane to New York with different jockeys, running shoes and proprietors. That afternoon at Belmont he rode 3 horses almost anonymously (2nd, remaining, closing). He rode six greater Thursday (win, 6th, fourth, fourth, 5th, fourth). He declined an interview request.
Velazquez stated he had ridden through the spring in “Tampa, Oaklawn [Arkansas], Florida, Louisiana, New York, Kentucky, and London.” To control the grind, he recommended arriving at the song early to permit for 30-minute naps. He stated a pro jockey feels zero difference among audiences of 150,000 and coffee triple digits.
“You’ve got to pay attention,” he stated several times on the way to this: “You could have an idea what is going to occur, however, 8 out of 10 it’s not going to take place the manner you believe you studied. . . . The horses, whatever happens, it is just when that door opens, you do not know what to anticipate until they reach for it and what the other ones are going to do.”