ELMONT, LI — New Yorkers galloped to the track in droves Wednesday for a chance to get their hands on the final 1,000 reserved-seating tickets for the Belmont Stakes — days after all of the tickets that were available online were snapped up within minutes.
The June 9 race marks the first time since 2008 that a horse has a chance to win the Triple Crown after I'll Have Another won both the May 5 Kentucky Derby and the May 19 Preakness Stakes.
A crowd of more than 100,000 people is expected for the 144th running of the race, around double what has been seen during years when the coveted title is not at stake.
Bronx resident Ray Novelli, 55, waited on line at Belmont Park for five-and-a-half hours to grab his tickets — and he's not even a die-hard fan.
"It really interests me because it's a Triple Crown race," said Novelli. "And if you come the day of the race, you're not gonna sit down."
Novelli went to the race in 2008, when Big Brown was vying for the Triple Crown, but was only able to score general admission tickets, which do not guarantee a seat.
Fans had to wait in the lobby until 11:30 a.m., when they were allowed to walk through the front gates to buy tickets. Reserved-seating tickets that were released through Ticketmaster this week sold out in three minutes, and an unlimited number of general admission tickets are available up to and including the day of the race.
Chris Davis, 29, a construction worker from The Bronx, thought he was early when he made it to the track at 10 a.m. But when he arrived, the line was already stretched through the front door. He waited for over two hours.
Waiting for Belmont tickets is a new experience for Davis, who says he's been a "huge, big time" horseracing fan for at least 12 years, but usually skips Belmont because he says it attracts the bandwagon fans. This year, he couldn't stay away.
"At the Preakness, he showed he's a superior horse," Davis said of I'll Have Another. "He stalks these horses, waits to the end of the race, and then blows by them."
Ticket buyers experienced a few hiccups. The ducats were sold on the third floor of the building, and people had to travel up two escalators to a second line.
Along the way, some of the older fans lost their spot on line as others blew past them. And there was only one ticket window open.
But ultimately, everyone got their tickets — even those who didn't plan to watch the race. Eli Horowitz, a 27-year-old ticket broker from Midwood, Brooklyn, was on his laptop buying Justin Bieber tickets while his wife and child waited on line for the Belmont tickets that he would eventually sell.
He shrugged off the excitement, noting that throughout the years, many horses have come close without winning the Triple Crown.
"I mean it's cool," Horowitz said. "But it's happened like 22 times already."
Twenty-one horses have actually won the Preakness and Kentucky Derby before losing the Belmont Stakes, which would make I'll Have Another number 22 if he loses.
But most race fans at Belmont hoped I'll Have Another becomes the first Triple Crown Winner since the horse Affirmed last won the honor.
"It hasn't happened since 1978," the first-in-line Novelli said. "And I think he'll win. I really do."