As much as I love going to away games, there really is something great about having huge racing events come to my town. There’s definitely the same sense of anticipation and excitement in the air, but for me there’s much less stress when all of the action is taking place pretty much outside of my stoop. Plus, it’s so fun to see all of the people associated with what I call the “travelling circus” – that is, the photographers, journalists, trainers, jockeys, fans and owners on the Triple Crown trail – here in my city. It means I can finally try to pay back some of the awesome hospitality shown to me over the spring racing series!
Of course, even Triple Crown season can’t be completely without its headaches; that’s why I found myself at the New York City DMV in Harlem this morning, trying to acquire a new driver’s license following a really neato pickpocketing experience a few weeks ago. Hence, I was on the Subway at 7 a.m. to get in line at 7:45 for the DMV’s 8:30 a.m. opening. Fun times! But the good news is that it’s all sorted out and I am once again legally allowed to drive a car. Woohoo! Shout out to the three nice ladies at the DMV who really were helpful and got me out of there in less than an hour – no small feat in any DMV, and downright heroic in one that deals with the New York City metropolitan area.
The reason that I got to the DMV so early is that I had places to be today: the Empire State Building, to be exact. Every year, one or more of the connections of the Belmont Stakes does a photo-op at the very top of the Empire State Building, and it is very cool indeed. There was no way I was going to miss it, and thankfully I was able to hop on the 4 train and express ride my way down to the iconic New York City landmark just in time.
If you’re in town for the Belmont or even if you live anywhere near New York City, I highly recommend checking out the Empire State Building. It’s one of those places that “real New Yorkers” avoid because it’s touristy and all of that (which I understand; I’m a native Floridian, and we tend to shy away from tourist traps, too) but this is one of those places that’s iconic for a reason. The views really are spectacular, and when it’s a clear day like today you can see the entire island of Manhattan.
Gary Stevens, the Hall of Fame jockey who piloted Oxbow to victory in the Preakness Stakes, was the special guest of the morning, posing for a phalanx of photographers and videographers on top of one of the world’s most recognizable pieces of real estate.
He was joined by two track buglers: Ryan Resky to his left and Sam Grossman to his right. These guys are not just amazing musicians but also consummate entertainers, and they’re always happy to play for fans between races just to make a day at the track even more special.
Why would they treat the top of the Empire State Building be any differently? They ended up playing for visitors to the building, delighting the families with a surprise rendition of “America the Beautiful” – a perfect selection on a day like today!
After that, it was time to head to Rockefeller Center (which really is referred to as “30 Rock” just like the show, by the way) for the Belmont Stakes media luncheon.
This is an event in which the press corps and connections of various horses gather on the roof of the famous midtown landmark to schmooze and eat as much delicious finger food as possible. Behold: sliders!
Here’s Gary catching up with Oxbow’s trainer D. Wayne Lukas:
I also spotted Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Shug McGaughey:
D. Wayne Lukas was clearly enjoying himself:
And why not? The day was only getting more and more beautiful as the afternoon continued, and it was a reminder of what a pleasure and a privilege it is for me to be able to live in a city like this.
After a little bit of eating (OK, a lot for me; there was also a taco station) it was time to hear from some of the Belmont connections. Eric Wing, a truly awesome guy who worked with us here at NTRA Communications until just about 2 ½ weeks ago, is the new Director of Communications at the New York Racing Association. As such, he got to kick off the proceedings this afternoon. He did a great job (no surprise to anyone who knows him) and I just really like this photo of him because it looks like he’s giving some really rousing speech before a battle.
After that Andy Serling, the horse betting guru-in-residence at the New York Racing Association, took the stage to introduce the guests for the afternoon. He called up Kentucky Derby-winning trainer McGaughey first, and it was great to see Shug looking so well and with his sense of humor fully intact. He was cracking the room up – Serling included- throughout his time at the podium.
Up next were the duo of Lukas and Stevens, the pair responsible for getting Oxbow to the Preakness winner’s circle. They were hilarious, too – Lukas even managed to throw in a reference to the singer Meatloaf, which is always a win in my book.
Last up was Terry Finley. He’s the President of West Point Thoroughbreds, one of the leading horse racing owner partnerships in the nation. His group has Freedom Child going into the Belmont; that horse won his most recent race by a whopping 13 ¼ lengths, so he’s a legitimate threat to win the third jewel of the Triple Crown.
It was a great way to spend an afternoon in anticipation of the Belmont Stakes, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to share the lead-up and race day with you. Like Frank says in the great song “New York, New York”: “Start spreading the news” – tell your friends, get to the racetrack, and have some fun: after all, it’s Belmont time!