Caleb Hansen (above) is covering the Belmont Stakes for Boy's Life magazine. (All photos by Julie June Stewart)
Caleb Hansen is a standout among the 2014 Belmont Stakes press corp. Dapper in a bow tie or wearing his Boy Scout uniform, you can’t help but notice the 13-year-old. He is journaling and writing a submission for Boy’s Life, which is the official magazine of the Boy Scouts of America. Caleb is an equestrian who proudly shows you pictures of his horse back home in Foley, Mo., where he has been taking riding lessons for four years. Caleb wasn’t joking when he said that Foley is a small town northeast of St. Louis. It has a population of 161 people.
During the Preakness, Caleb and his mom, Spring, were at a Boy Scout Camporee. (A “camporee” is a local or regional gathering of Boy Scouts for camping and other activities.) His mom has always been a horse racing fan and received a voice mail about California Chrome's win at the Preakness. They realized that very few people they were with even knew about the race. Caleb and his mom decided to take on the task of learning about horse racing and sharing what they learn. He readily admits that this is his mom’s passion and smiles when he says that “she got him into this.” This week at the Belmont is Caleb’s first exposure to horse racing.
BREAKFAST AT BELMONT
It’s very sweet to see Caleb walking around the track with his book bag. The Belmont communications staff has helped him set up a schedule to meet trainers, jockeys, paddock judges, stewards and more for interviews, while his mom has been photographing the experience. He was thrilled to talk with California Chrome’s co-owner Steve Coburn and jockey, Victor Espinoza, as well as Ride On Curlin’s trainer, Billy Gowan. He also met with NYRA CEO Chris Kay. He is hoping to interview California Chrome’s trainer, Art Sherman, and exercise rider, Willie Delgado. (What I love about this is that Caleb knows the names of all the players involved in the Belmont Stakes and rattles off their names with ease.) He said he enjoyed interviewing “The Mig” (retired American jockey/racing analyst Richard Migliore). I asked him if he knew of any of these folks before he arrived at the track and the only person he and his mom were familiar with is Jerry Bailey, and NBC racing commentator and retired Hall of Fame jockey, whom they enjoyed meeting.
I asked him what he thinks so far about horse racing. He said: “I like it a lot. It’s very different from what we were expecting.” His first impression of Belmont Park: “It’s very big! At first, I wasn’t too sure about it because it’s so big and I wasn’t sure where we were supposed to go. But we are warming up to it.”
CALEB VISITS THE BELMONT PADDOCK
The Belmont Park grandstand is the largest in Thoroughbred racing with an attendance capacity of more than 100,000. I can certainly understand Caleb’s wonderment when I learned that his home town of Foley encompasses 89 acres while Belmont Park itself is 430 acres.
He has enjoyed watching California Chrome in the morning and he feels “that Tonalist and Wicked Strong are two opponents that California Chrome will have to face on Saturday.” Covering horse racing is not an easy job and they have been learning that it requires getting to the track early in the morning, long before the sun rises. I have seen then on the backside, in the paddock, at the press conferences, at the track kitchen and at the Belmont Stakes draw. It was fun to teach Caleb how to use the media package for jotting down the post positions and the morning-line odds for each horse. Yet rain or shine, Caleb packs a high-wattage smile as he asks questions and learns something new about the sport.
I think it’s wonderful that Caleb and his mom are here for the Belmont Stakes. I hope that Boy’s Life publishes his article and that it opens the door to new young fans that can benefit from Caleb’s experience. His perspective will be young and fresh. Who knows? Perhaps someday he will be writing from a historical perspective that he was at the track for the “California Chrome Belmont.”
Caleb will have many stories to tell his beloved cat Joey when he gets home to Foley, and I hope that we have helped a future turf writer. He couldn’t have chosen a better race to start with!