Belmont Song: More Than Just Setting the Tone

The Life

Jazmin Villegas, above, performed "Empire State of Mind" before the 2010 Belmont Stakes. (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire)

Belmont Park is the birthplace of the post parade. The first time the horses were ever paraded in front of the grandstand prior to the race was in 1871. The tradition lives on in horse racing across the country before each and every race - including the Belmont Stakes on June 7 when California Chrome will try to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

One tradition that Belmont has not been able to keep up with is the song that plays during the post parade before the Belmont Stakes. In Louisville, they have played “My Old Kentucky Home” before each and every Kentucky Derby since 1921. At Pimlico Race Course they have stuck with the state song, “Maryland, My Maryland,” for the Preakness Stakes.

But at Belmont, they just can’t seem to make up their minds.

For most of the history of the Belmont Stakes, the song that was played during the post parade was “Sidewalks of New York,” a waltz with lyrics that described life in New York City in the 1890s. The song tells the story of the lyricist James Blake and a woman named Mamie O’Rourke (perhaps the wife of famed “Diamond Dan” O’Rourke), playing and dancing in the streets. The song is sometimes called “East Side, West Side” and was even the theme song of the TV show of the same name in the 1960s.

Track officials decided to part with the old-timey-sounding ditty in 1997 and instead went with Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” in order to attract younger fans. “New York, New York” was already an institution in New York sports by 1997.

The song was played at the end of every New York Yankees baseball game, every New York Rangers hockey game, and during many New York Knicks basketball games.

The tradition at Belmont kept up for 13 years. Many younger fans of the sport had no idea about Mamie O’Rourke and the “Sidewalks of New York”.

In 2010, Belmont tried yet again to make an appeal to younger fans. It scrapped the iconic Sinatra for a more contemporary hit - “Empire State of Mind” by Jay Z and Alicia Keys.


Photo by Eclipse Sportswire

Like “Sidewalks of New York” and “New York, New York,” “Empire State of Mind” was about life in New York City. The song is a collection of references and shout-outs that take the listener on a tour of the city’s diverse landscape. Despite being about New York, the song was a huge hit across the country, spending five weeks on top of the Billboard 100.

The reception to the change of post parade songs was not well received, however, and Belmont went back to Sinatra in 2011. Many believe that the drought in Triple Crown winners is a curse from Mamie O’Rourke for scrapping her song.

This year, Belmont is going to try to outsmart her. The bugler will play “Sidewalks of New York” to call the horses to post. Once on the track, they will parade to “New York, New York.” Hopefully, for California Chrome’s sake, Mamie won’t notice.


Photo by Eclipse Sportswire


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