NEW YORK — Fans of I'll Have Another may be taking their hats off in mourning after the one-time Triple Crown contender retired at the last minute, but other race fans will still be looking for the perfect hat to root on the remaining Belmont Stakes contenders this Saturday.
Hat designers around the city are offering a host of fashionable options to New Yorkers and tourists alike who plan on donning their racetrack best when galloping over to see the 2012 Belmont Stakes, despite the disappointing news that I'll Have Another will not be able to compete for the Triple Crown due to a tendon injury.
Christine A. Moore, a Midtown-based hat designer who refers to herself as the "Milliner to the Triple Crown" and "the leading hat designer for racing hats" prepared about 90 hats and headpieces for the annual Belmont Stakes Designer Hat Trunk Show at The Garden City Hotel.
"The hats aren't like derby hats. They're sleek and clean, kind of made to reflect the city."
The Christine A. Moore Millinery started showcasing her hats Thursday, with a collection that ranges from summer-inspired large straw hats to small feathered fascinators. The show continues through Saturday morning to cater to last-minute shoppers who plan to strut their stuff in Long Island for the Belmont Stakes.
"They usually buy off the rack," she said about her customers, who range from international tourists to local celebrities.
"It's more of an impulsive buy. Once people find out that other people will be wearing hats, they'll start to buy them."
She has been catering to the Belmont Stakes for seven years, and her hats go from $72 to $800 for women and $100 to $195 for men.
Her hats are generally made from all-natural materials, including straw, feathers, silk and tulle. The pieces are generally medium-brimmed and come in colors such as purple, green, blue and black.
For women going to Belmont, Moore says, the hats give them a chance to express their fashion styles in an outgoing way.
"Hats speak volumes about your sophistication and style," Moore said. "Belmont is one of the few places where women get to dress and be feminine."
It's also a good way for ladies to get recognized, she added.
"People really strive to be in the papers the next day," Moore added. "And as a designer, that gives you great freedom."
Suzanne Newman, the owner of Suzanne Couture Millinery on the Upper East Side, also knows a few things about making head-turning hats for haute couture events, most recently including the Belmont Stakes.
Although Newman admits that Belmont Stakes is not her leading source for business — she is better known for her work being featured at Central Park Conservancy luncheons — she says that demand has really picked up for the races in the past year, a trend she attributes to last year's Royal Wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William.
"The Belmont is probably the least hat-wearing event of the races, but because of an increased interest in the Royals people are becoming ever more interested and secure in wearing a hat," Newman said while showing her collection to a potential Belmont Stakes-attending customer.
"They are less embarrassed by it, probably because the Royals really make it look easy."
Her hats, which are priced from $500 to several thousand, range from spiky art pieces resembling feathered sea urchins to teeny tiny fascinators with delicate lace trim.
"Nothing is too much for a horse race, you know," she said while helping fit a spiky, red headpiece on a customer.
Still, she said, the most important thing to consider when selling her pieces is that each hat should be customized for the person wearing it.
"It depends on the person's personality," she added. "They need to be comfortable. It's supposed to be fabulous."
For Eve Patton, a Hong-Kong based biotech company director originally from the Upper East Side, finding the perfect hat became a priority ever since she found herself in possession of a much-coveted ticket to the anticipated Saturday race.
"It's so fun," Patton said, while trying on a white, feathery piece. "I love the shape — it looks so lovely and breezy on."
Patton, who is no stranger to hat fashion, was looking at everything from bright red pieces to tilted, black brims, in the hopes of making a statement at both the races and at a wedding coming up in the Hamptons.
"Ever since I was a little girl, they couldn't get me out of the hat department," she added.
" I'm looking for something one-of-a-kind."
Other customers visiting the store on East 61st Street near Lexington Avenue agreed that the hats were unlike anything they had seen before.
"We are entranced by everything," tourist Elizabeth Buimaraes said, while perusing the store during a visit from Brazil.
"It's like going into another extraordinary space. I've never had anything more fabulous on top of my head in my life."