As I complete my first week of my initial internship outside of the racing world, I have slowly come to realize how easy it is to miss that environment. When last Saturday arrived, I was itching to get to Belmont Park to see not only a full slate of stakes races, but also all the people who have become like family to me.
Irish War Cry was the early favorite for the Belmont Stakes. The first thing that came to mind when hearing his morning-line odds at the post position draw at Rockefeller Center (which was a convenient 10 feet from my internship office) was “Yes! This means I can invite a good amount of friends and get all-access passes easily!” My High Point University friends had been following my immense amount of “cool” social media posts, including meeting Aaron Rodgers and other celebrities at the Kentucky Derby and my backstage passes to the Preakness Stakes Infield-fest with Zedd and Sam Hunt. At this point, I had people begging me to have them as my guest for the Belmont. After putting the invitation out there to some of my friends, I had locked down a solid number of six fraternity boys wanting to follow me around all day at the races, under one condition… they wore a sport coat and tie and an Irish War Cry cap.
I arrived at the races early to see all the people I wanted to see before the day took a more nervous and stressful turn. This included my racetrack friends – trainers, owners, jockeys and their kids, numerous lifer NYRA security guards and many other NYRA staff members that I have become close with over the years. I received a few “good luck today” greetings, and others were just curious on the whereabouts of my dad – Irish War Cry's trainer Graham Motion!
The boys finally arrived looking sharp. They met me at the paddock where I gave them their passes, which included paddock access, box seats, and horsemen's lounge privileges. They were more than pleased upon realizing that Bobby Flay was in close proximity of our box. After they learned all the handicapping basics, they were off and running and eager to hit the windows with my only request being that they not tell me if they were betting on my dad's horses. One of the boys quickly learned that betting “to show” did not mean to win, and that he did not actually bet “the seven horse to get seventh” as that is not even a bet you can make.
My dad arrived right before the Grade 1 Manhattan Stakes with Ascend sitting at 27-1 odds, and we all ventured down to the paddock. The boys were starstruck when they saw me saying hello to Eddie Olczyk, who I then learned wasn’t just a horse racing reporter for NBC Sports but also a former professional hockey player (who knew?). They begged me to get him to take a picture with them. “Who, Eddie? Yeah no problem!” I said. The boys were happy, and I was happy too, because apparently their day at the races was now already fulfilled.
Our race went off and our longshot Ascend won the Manhattan. The boys immediately were curious about what that meant, as they all bet up to $50 on him. We then went down to the winner's circle where they met Bobby Flay and got their picture taken with the trophy. Then my nerves kicked in because the biggest race of the day was up next, with our horse Irish War Cry going off as the favorite.
Unfortunately, a “Motion double” was not to be, but Irish War Cry gave us all great excitement in the stretch run and finished a remarkable second. I was bummed until the boys all gave me a hug and said the day had been one of the best of their lives. They also remarked that they now have slight gambling addictions after winning up to $500 on Ascend!
I concluded the day by taking my elated guests to the jocks' room to meet some of the orchestrators of their winnings. They had the chance to ride an Equicizer, which showed them what it takes to be one of the greatest athletes in the world. After a little demonstration by Manuel Franco, they all decided being a jockey wasn't in their future They will all stick to handicapping and maybe even one day own a horse.
With the Belmont Stakes behind us, “When does Saratoga start?” is the most popular question I’ve had to answer. Sitting in my New York City cubicle, there's not much on my mind except this: There is nothing like a good day at the track.