Bwog Adventures: A Day at the Races

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Those stuck in New York over the summer, fear not: there’s plenty to do off the Island. In this installment of Bwog Adventures, Lydia DePillis takes you to the far reaches of Queens for some equine entertainment.

jhkjFor someone who read as many Black Stallion books as I did as a kid, Belmont Park is a legend–land of endearing underdogs and grizzled grooms, somewhere off in horse heaven. It’s actually in Long Island, just over the border from Queens. But that’s far enough away to make an adventure, and I had some time during reading week on what just happened to be the opening day of the season.

I and two traveling companions, Rachel and CML, left at the leisurely time of 11:00 AM—races don’t start until 1:00 PM—tripping across Morningside Park to the B train, which we took down to 50th, where we transferred to the E to Jamaica station. After casting about for a half hour in the chaotic shopping zone of Jamaica (beware instructions from friendly busdrivers) we finally caught an M110 going in the right direction, which we knew only because of the guy reading the racing form with pencils in his cap.

hgjAfter a half hour traveling deep into the vastness of Queens, the bus deposited us and a handful of other track-goers on a curb next to a huge parking lot. Mounting a skybridge that took us to the grandstand, I gasped at the first sight of the expanse of green laid out below—at 1.5 miles, Belmont’s dirt track is one of the longest in the country. On June 9, it will be ringed by screaming fans, possibly urging home the first Triple Crown winner in 29 years. OK, unlikely, but they’ll still be screaming.

Aside from a girlish horse obsession, my excitement stemmed from the sense that there’s probably no place like a racetrack anywhere else in America. It’s as good a cross section of society as you’ll find anywhere outside the US Census, playing host to every ethnicity and social stratum, from frilly-hatted Manhattan matrons to scruffy old men gambling away their paychecks. Of course, that doesn’t mean they have to associate with one another.

hghjThe track, also like America, breaks down into zones. On the outside, it’s more of a park, with fountains and picnic tables where big Italian families and labor unions lay out their coolers of beer and cold cuts. Horses seem forgotten–this is a place to socialize. Moving inside to the grandstand, people are more businesslike, getting their hot dogs and pretzels, placing their bets, watching the race re-run on banks of TV screens. The modern track doesn’t require that you see the races at all, and the grandstand takes care of all you need in between: food, drink, arcade games for the kids, even a barber. I’m not sure what amenities grace the private clubhouse area; that’s closed off to the plebs. I imagine a setting of sumptuous grace, with tuxedoed waiters serving canapés to Arab oil magnates, in contrast to the 60s drabness downstairs.

kjkThe scene next to the track is slightly more focused, the demographic more uniform. Outdoor benches support pairs of swearing, toothless men, about a third of whom are wearing some sort of Yankees paraphernalia, a few crunching on cigars the size of small trout. The whole scene seems pungently anachronistic. “If this were a Hemingway novel,” remarks CML, “I would’ve ordered five whiskey and sodas right now.” Overpriced plastic cups of beer are more the norm here, but the point is well taken.

hgjAll legitimate tracks have buglers to announce the procession of horses from the paddock to the course. Belmont Park’s bugler is named Sam. At one point, after we had stood watching him, the red-coated man came up to us to say hi and ask if we were having a good time, his impossibly long horn catching the weak sunlight. Sam is in his 15th year bugling at Belmont, having replaced a guy who quit after scoring $130,000 in the pick six. “In between races, I look for pretty girls, and I go and I schmooze,” he explained, before posing for a picture with two awed young men, and going back to work.

The action of a track is tidal, in a way. Races go off about every half hour, and crowds flow inside and out on the same rhythm, surging to the fence as the field nears the finish line and receding back into the grandstand afterwards to place bets for the next race.  At several points, I gravitate to the tunnel through which the horses trot on their way from the saddling area to the track, their fractious youth contained less by
nbnmthe tiny men on their backs than the stolid “ponies” that accompany them to the gate. During one visit, I’m joined by a lady with a walker on what looks like a supervised trip of disabled adults.

“Oh man oh man oh man!” she says delightedly. “They’re so beautiful! Hello, hello!”

I feel the same way, every time.

– Lydia DePillis



  1. ouch  

    E train to Jamaica? Killer.
    Bus to the Track? Terrible.

    Should've taken the LIRR to Bellerose and hopped a cab for like $5 total.

    On busier days the LIRR will actualy run trains directly to the track.

  2. EL Virginian

    Pullin' for Street Sense this Saturday in the Preakness. Hopefully I'll be able to make it up to Baltimore for the race.

    It's been far too long since we've had a Triple Crown winner. Hope Street Sense doesn't pull a Barbaro.

  3. going

    out this weekend, probably. belmont is really one of the nicest in america.

  4. NEIGH


  5. i assume

    LPD is the pretty girl Sam was schmoozing with that day.

  6. why

    schmooze with ladies when you have your pick of young stallions? I love me some raging horse snausage in the morning.

  7. really?  

    Belmont Park read as many black stallion books as you did?

  8. the ponies  

    At home in New Orleans, I used to go to the races for dates a lot. Always a good time. eat hot dogs and make crazy bets. Get all worked up over $2.
    For a second date - go to the grandstand. The races start earlier in NOLA, so drink mimosas and have brunch. Not as fancy as people would imagine.

    I haven't done that up here! Thanks for the reminder!

  9. preposition police

    ON Long Island, not "in." On on on. Say it like a native.

    • DHI

      Yeah it is "on Long Island" because things are generally on an island, but one thing that nobody should "say like a native" of Long Island is "on line." Get in line and talk like everyone else in this great nation. In line. I can excuse people who were born with it from saying it themselves, because they can't help it, but nobody should ever say "on line" instead of "in line" by conscious choice.

  10. that's so silly

    It's a proper noun. Just because it conveniently reveals its geological formation shouldn't affect your preposition usage. We don't say ON Britain or ON Ireland or ON Hawaii.

    Besides, no one likes a grammar nazi.

    • DHI

      Jurassic Park takes place "on Isla Nubar" though. If it's okay with Jurassic Park, it's okay with me.

    • DHI

      But outside Jurassic Park, Britain, Ireland, and Hawaii are names which also refer to things other than individual islands; Britain refers to a lot of things, Ireland to a republic, and Hawaii to a state. Long Island only refers to an island (which is part of New York State). If you were referring to the island of Hawaii itself, you would say "on Hawaii island."

      I don't really give a shit about all that but I think the dude is right about his damn island. I was just using it as a springboard for the only grammatical issue I truly care about, "in line." I'm only a one-issue Grammar Nazi.

  11. oh oh!

    can we call this series "LYDIA DOES NEW YORK"


  12. Consider This

    One could say "on line" if one didn't think that the line itself were the people waiting around. The line could be something that extends from the first to the last person, and those waiting are on it, hence "waiting on [the] line". It's a much more meta way of thinking of waiting for something.

    What REALLY irks me is people who say the "first person" in/on line is the person who has to wait the longest, ie the person who most recently joined the line. The first person on line is at the front, next to get whatever is being offered, and anyone who disagrees is wrong.

    • DHI

      It may be more abstract but not more "meta" by the traditional definition of "meta". I've thought about that possibility, but people are rarely lined up in such a way as to meet the qualifications of a geometric line passing through them, and people maintaining their place in line is defined by whether people recognize their status rather than their strict physical location, which very rarely falls on a line in any case. But I would definitely welcome crazier sayings like "on curve" or even "on line" if everyone who said it had a belief that space was warped in such a way that a single line extended through all people. Or, "in space" for people being in the three-dimensional space in which they could wait for things. It would be really tight if people said "I was waiting in space for a sammich." Or "skewered by Knex" if you visualize giant imaginary Knex pieces going through the people waiting for something.

      But yes, it is ridiculous for people to call the last person in line, both by the temporal and ordinal definitions, the first person.
      Ok back to work.

    • rjt

      Can we issue something that says that "meta-" not be allowed to be used as an adjective, since it's a prefix? Use "reflexive" or something if you're not going to connect it to a word. But "reflexive" wouldn't even be appropriate there, since there was nothing self-referential about your mode of thinking about your waiting.

      THESIS: People need to stop using "meta-" like it's an adjective.

      CONCLUSION: "In line" is way less dumb than "on line."

  13. well

    I'm not sure what you mean by Long Island only referring to the island. By your standards, North America refers to the continent, and people should say "oh yea I live ON North America" as if they were haplessly strapped to this huge rock of a continent. Both NA and LI refer simply to places where people live. And insofar as I live in a place, in an area, and that place is called Long Island, I can live IN Long Island.

    The reason I hate grammar nazis is that speech was invented for communication. If you can understand someone saying IN instead of ON, and it doesn't slow down communication at all, then who cares. Seriously. On line, in line, as long as the person being spoken to can understand it, who cares?

    • DHI

      it has to do with the size of the rock you're on. if it's so big that you're not really thinking about the edges, you're in it. that's why you're stranded on a desert island, but stranded in the middle of the goddamn desert. not that there's a brightline or any grammatical thing, but that's generally how it goes down. whereas, in all those examples that you gave, there is a possibility for a political definition, and people always think of themselves as being "in" a political boundary, so those confuse the issue by bringing a whole 'nother thing into it. this isn't really a matter of grammar, just generally that people think of being on islands when they think of them as islands.

      • DHI

        And that the name, size, and lack of any political definition of "Long Island" makes it most likely that people are thinking of the island when they say it. Of course people can refer to the area instead and say "in" and that's fine, but usually that dude is right about "on".

  14. CML

    i swear i make good company. even without whiskeys and sodas.

  15. stfu

    all you faggots are from new jersey, you shouldnt be talking about my borough like that

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