NEW YORK — Despite experts’ favorite I’ll Have Another being scratched from the Saturday's much-anticipated Belmont Stakes, passengers on the Long Island Railroad flocked over to Belmont Park in droves, turning the train and the park into a veritable fashion runway show.
Passengers included first-time Belmont Stakes spectators who had planned to go to the race to see I’ll Have Another potentially take it all in the first Triple Crown win since Affirmed took it in 1978.
Many passengers, including employees of I’ll Have Another’s owner J. Paul Reddam, decided to head to the races anyway because they already had much-coveted seats and had chosen their fancy hats and suits for the event.
“He’s really upset, but we’re here to support him,” said John Russo, about his boss, Reddam, and Friday’s disappointing news about the horse’s tendon injury that prevented him from joining the race.
Russo, the business developer for Cash Call, a personal loan and mortgage company, had traveled all the way from California to potentially see his bosses’ horse take a Triple Crown win- but would instead have to settle for the horse's retirement ceremony planned to be held at Belmont Park just before the Belmont Stakes.
“We’re still excited,” added Russo, 49. “We’d be more excited if I’ll Have Another is racing, but we plan to go and enjoy ourselves.”
Russo, wearing a suit and tie, was there with colleages Nicole Lahaie-Skinner, 29, and Jean Kohles, 46, who worked in the human resources and customer service departments for the company. The three had much-coveted grandstand tickets and were looking forward to a great view of the races.
Other first-time Belmont Stakes spectators had decided to head to the tracks after hearing the news about I’ll Have Another because they didn’t want to miss the opportunity to show off their newly-purchased outfits, chosen specifically for the race.
“By the time we found out that I’ll Have Another was scratched, we had already bought the hats!” said research assistant and Midtown resident Peter Chang, about his straw fedora.
His other four friends were also wearing wide to medium-brimmed straw hats. They had decided to make a day of it, even though they no longer knew who to bet on, since their top choice had been scratched.
“We had the tickets. We had to go,” Chang, 31, added. “It’ll be fun.”
Other New Yorkers were simply following tradition, having had attended the races every year for more than 10 years.
For Lacy Rehe, a nurse from Hell’s Kitchen, I’ll Have Another’s scratch was a disappointment, but was in no way a deterrent from her going to the race as a social event attended by the creme-de-la-creme of New York society.
“We have always gone,” said Rehe, 34.
Rehe had started attending horse races at the Kentucky Derby when was a young girl living in Nashville, Tennessee, and decided to continue the tradition at Belmont after she moved to New York.
“We’ve been through rain, through 110-degree temperatures, even when the water was cut out and the toilets wouldn’t flush," she added. "We never miss it.”
Rehe was excited about attending this year because she had moved up the social ladder to get fancier, more coveted seats.
“This year we really get to dress up,” she said while donning a wide-brimmed straw hat with a rose, a purple dress and heels.
Others were less thrilled, having looked more forward to the betting aspect of the race than the upscale social scene.
One enthusiast, a horse racing guru who has been all over the world to bet, was still headed over to the tracks Saturday morning, but he admitted that it was just not going to be the same race without contender I’ll Have Another.
“To me, something is fishy,” he said about the last-minute decision to pull the colt.
“It’s a great sport, and it’s a shame. It’s just not a great betting race anymore."