Betting Big Brown and Bathrooms at Belmont

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this important post about Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. For what seems to be like the 10th time this decade, a horse enters the race having won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness in the last few weeks and has a real shot at winning the elusive Triple Crown. No horse has done that since Affirmed in 1978.

As a track veteran — I remember selling back some freshman textbooks in my second weekend of my first year of college to scrap up $50 to go to Belmont, but they were math textbooks, and I wasn’t getting no “A” in calculus as an English major, anyways — I want to share the advice that has given me, like, three winning days in 17 years of track visits.

I was part of a group of friends camped out at the top of the stretch in 2004, a perfect spot among a record 120,139 gamblers in Elmont to watch Birdstone overtake Smarty Jones down the stretch and spoil the most recent Triple Crown bid. I had money on the Philadelphia favorite Smarty, but I also had maybe $10 on Birdstone to win, and wound up heading back to Mrs. Icepick in Midtown with a waking hangover and a couple of hundred in “blood money” at something like 36-1 odds, as I recall. (Digression No. 1: It’s hazy how much I won, and I can’t believe I went home with $360, so maybe it was a $5 win ticket and I won $180, but it was still a decent haul. Karma still has me paying for that, because I haven’t had a winning day at the track since, though I won again with Birdstone in the Travers later that year, though not enough at 9-2 odds to make up for the rest of that Saturday in Saratoga. But I digress.)

If you’re determined to beat the crowds, if not the house, on Saturday, here’s some free tips:

  1. Plan your bathroom breaks and your visits to the teller windows. The lines for both grow increasingly longer as the day drags on. I wouldn’t attempt to visit either within three races of the Stakes race.
  2. Don’t wear open-toe shoes if you plan to use the restrooms, especially if you’re a woman and, in desperation, need to use the men’s room. Trust me on this one. And don’t go passing out in the restrooms, either. Bad scene. Think sloshed, both the patrons and the viscous layer on the floor.
  3. If you’re bleeding and in need of first aid, the nurses station is top-notch, though it’s in a subterranean alcove underneath the huge grandstand, near the jockey room. They’re awfully nice down there. Trust me on this one, too.
    (Digression No. 2: On my way back after visiting said nurses station in 2004, President Reagan’s death was announced over the loudspeakers. Strange coincidence that such an icon of my ’80s youth died while I was stumbling through the hallowed halls of Belmont. But I digress.)
  4. Don’t even attempt to drive there, unless you plan on arriving around 6 a.m. There was a special Belmont/drunk train from Penn Station the last time I went. Plan accordingly. It took us quite a while to get out of the track at the end of the day, as I remember, too.
  5. I have only one bit gambling advice: bet on overwhelming favorite Big Brown to place, not win. Modern horses are bred to stud these days, not for the grueling and increasing distances of the Triple Crown, especially the 1½ miles of the Belmont Stakes. There’s no reason to think any differently this year. Remember, it’s only happened 11 times in 88 years (of course, with my luck and reverse psychology, I just handed the Triple Crown to Big Brown). Many of today’s sportswriters can still remember three horses pulling off the feat in the ’70s, so it’s no wonder they can be a bit nostalgic.
  6. Anyway, with 10 horses in the field and Big Brown at 2-5 odds and on the inside post, you’re not making shit picking him to win, or with him on top of any exotics. So wheel him in the No. 2 slot with an exacta for $2, which will cost you $18, and enjoy the show. You still won’t make much money, but you’re a lock (in my book) for cashing a winner. And who doesn’t love a winner?

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