It wasn’t like 1968 when the “new” Belmont Park opened after five years of construction and so many cars were parked in front of the gates to a track parking lot on that first day that it created a traffic jam on the Cross Island Parkway.
But, in a sign of a different era, when ticketed fans were allowed to enter a New York Racing Association track for the first time since March 8, 2020, a group of about two dozen eager patrons stood outside the clubhouse entrance at Beautiful Belmont awaiting 11 a.m. when the doors would open.
“It’s a good feeling to be back at the track, but there were some unknowns about what to expect,” said John Contrino, who has been attending the races at Belmont Park since he was 6-years-old until the pandemic put that on hiatus. He spent the May 1 Kentucky Derby Day at the Elmont track with his wife, Charissa. “It was rough to just watch on television.”
Paul Calzolano was also among the 929 fans who bought tickets for $15 (plus a service charge through Ticketmaster) and received admission, a seat, parking, pocket program, and, for this weekend only, a copy of the Daily Racing Form.
“It feels great to be back here. I’d rather be in the picnic grounds, but it is what it is. It’s great to be outside again,” Calzolano said.
It was a much different Belmont Park than fans saw when they had last been allowed on the Belmont grounds in October 2019, with construction inside the facility and a new hockey arena in what used to be a grandstand parking lot. There were, of course, some kinks and rust, but after being covered by cobwebs for so long, that was to be expected.
“It’s like trying to start a car that has been in a garage for a long time,” said NYRA president and CEO Dave O’Rourke while walking the grounds.
“Welcoming racing fans back to Belmont Park today is yet another example of how New York State is safely turning the page on the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added in a statement. “We are thrilled that our fans are back, and we’re looking forward to a fantastic summer of racing in New York.”
Greeting the fans were bright sunshine and an 11-race card that featured three graded stakes, two of them grade 2 stakes on the turf.
After Dr Post had taken the $200,000 Westchester Stakes (G3), the Fort Marcy (G2T) kicked off the two turf stakes with a result that was predictable on one hand and surprising on another.
With three of the five starters residing his barn, trainer Chad Brown had a powerful hand in the 1 1/8-mile Fort Marcy and figured to have the horses to beat. But instead of the victory going to the even-money favorite Rockemperor or 5-2 Devamani , it was the outsider of the trio, 10-1 shot Tribhuvan , who scampered away to a long lead on the backstretch and held on to score by 1 1/2 lengths over City Man .
“I was a little surprised by that,” jockey Eric Cancel said about the 4 1/2-length lead he enjoyed on the son of Toronado after a half-mile in :47.89 on firm turf. “I know he had a little bit of speed, but I didn’t think he’d be that far in front. But it worked out to my advantage. I knew he was going to be fighting to the end.”
Owned by Wonder Stables, Madaket Stables, Michael Dubb, and Michael Caruso, Tribhuvan ($22.40) enjoyed a much more successful trip in this edition of the Fort Marcy than he had a year ago when a rein broke and he was pulled up.
In the $200,000 Sheepshead Bay Stakes (G2T), a return to the European-like conditions of Belmont’s turf course once again brought out the best in Magic Attitude as the 4-year-old Galileo filly rallied from last in a field of six to draw away to a three-length victory over Mutamakina in the 1 3/8-mile test.
Last fall, in her United States debut for trainer Arnaud Delacour, the Lael Stables filly had posted a 2 1/4-length victory in the Belmont Oaks Invitational Stakes (G1T).
“Here at Belmont she can take her time and get balanced, and then you can produce her and (she will) accelerate,” said Delacour, whose filly was seventh in her 2021 debut, the Hillsborough Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.
Delacour said he will target the $750,000 New York Stakes (G2T) at Belmont June 4 for Magic Attitude’s next start.
Video: Fort Marcy S. (G2T)
Video: Sheepshead Bay S. (G2T)