MANHATTAN — The race may be more than two weeks away, but New York City is already champing at the bit.
Bars and restaurants across the city are gearing up for the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes June 9 on Long Island, and New Yorkers are making plans to watch history be made.
With the possibility of Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner I'll Have Another becoming the first horse to win the Triple Crown in 34 years, the excitement is building among proprietors and fans alike.
One horse-themed bar, the aptly-named Triple Crown Restaurant & Ale House at 330 Seventh Ave., is expected to be a race-day hot spot. The pub's owner, Martin O'Shea, said it isn't uncommon for jockeys to come in after races.
Come early, though, because the bar gets crowded not only with fans, but also Belmont ticket-holders stopping in for a pre-race drink, he explained.
"It's one of the premier events," O'Shea said. "It's up there with the Super Bowl — if the Giants or Jets are in the Super Bowl."
A bit farther Uptown, at the Brickyard Gastropub at 785 Ninth Ave., patrons can dig into Belmont-themed food and drink, like the Belmont Breeze, a whiskey-and-juice cocktail and the official drink of the Belmont Stakes.
Like the Triple Crown Ale House, Brickyard also promises to be packed. On the day of the Kentucky Derby this year, usually the bar's most crowded event, the Brickyard reached its maximum number of reservations a full five days before the race.
They expect Belmont fans to max out the space even sooner.
"There's probably more excitement about this year's Belmont then we've ever seen," a spokesperson for the bar said. "I think its going to be a really big event."
Even Midtown's venerated 21 Club, at 21 West 52nd St., breaks decorum for the race. As part of an annual tradition that includes the Preakness Stakes and Kentucky Derby, the Prohibition-era club brings television sets into the bar area.
"It's kind of a big deal," a spokesperson for the bar said of the race. "It's one of only three times the 21 Club ever puts a TV in their bar area."
For those looking to celebrate closer to the race track, there are official Belmont-sponsored events in the week leading up to the event, including the Belmont Stakes Parade on June 2 in Elmont, Long Island.
Additional reserve and general admission tickets to the race go on sale Wednesday at Belmont Park and the Aqueduct Racetrack at 11:30 a.m. However, general admission tickets do not sell out, according to the New York Racing Association.
That's good news for fans like Soren Hansen. The 29-year-old Stuyvesant Town resident is making his fifth annual trip to Belmont, chartering three school buses to transport friends to the race.
With the possibility of a Triple Crown winner, he expects his entourage to be larger than usual.
"People are excited every year, but it definitely throws fuel on the fire," Hansen said of the possibility. "It would be one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences."
As for the what the Triple Crown means to Hansen, who doesn't consider himself a die-hard horse-racing fan, he equated it to witnessing another incredible sports feat.
"If you weren't a baseball fan, and you just showed up and saw a perfect game," Hansen said, "it's one of those things you'd remember."