With the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park Saturday, FrontRowSoccer.com editor Michael Lewis’ thoughts wander back to another Triple Crown race at the racetrack almost five decades ago.
By Michael Lewis
I was at Belmont Park the day when Secretariat won his historic Triple Crown race in 1973, yet I don’t have a ticket, horse racing program or even a bettor’s slip as a souvenir.
Let me explain.
I was a college summer intern at Newsday (and I got paid for that). I was about three weeks into arguably the best summer of my then young life, working at the newspaper I grew up reading every day, six days week.
It was about that time that Newsday added a Sunday edition, forcing the paper to cover events on Saturdays. That included Yankees and Mets games, and the Belmont Stakes.
It just so happened that a wonder horse named Secretariat was running his foes ragged that spring, first in the Kentucky Derby, next at the Preakness.
There had been no horse racing Triple Crown winner since Citation accomplished the feat in 1947, so Long Island was preparing for one of its biggest sporting stories in years, as was Newsday.
As an intern, I got an opportunity to cover a ton of eclectic stuff, from shark fishing tournaments, regattas, junior tennis players to an Over-50 track meet (besides once in a while getting some plum assignments, such as the Yankees, Mets and even Jets training camp). They even allowed me to pick the harness racing winners at Roosevelt Raceway when regular Tony Sisti went on vacation (I hit the Big Triple one night; don’t ask me how I accomplished that. I still don’t know what I was doing). On this particular Saturday, however, I wasn’t going to write or work on the desk.
I was going to be a vital link for our photographers. My mission was to drive three photographers from the newspaper’s headquarters in Garden City, N.Y. (this was years prior to it moving to Melville, N.Y. and Suffolk County), to Belmont in Elmont, N.Y. I called myself the getaway driver.
Remember, this was well before the internet as we know it, and email and digital photography was in the realm of science fiction or in the imagination of future inventors. The photographers had to return to the paper and develop their photos (yes, it was tough living in the stone age; perhaps someday I will relate how we made fire and lived in caves).
Instead of parking in the press lot, I was given a special pass (which I still have today in my collection of press passes) that allowed me to park inside the park near the stables, not too far from the track itself.
After dropping off the photographers, I positioned my car toward the exit and waited close to the paddocks. When the race began, I listened on the car radio. It was one weird and surreal experience listening to how Secretariat ran away from the field on the radio and hearing the thousands of spectators cheering louder and louder only a couple of hundred yards away.
Big Red, as he was called, won by an astounding 31 lengths, leaving the others in the dust.
The photographers returned in plenty of time. I drove them back to the paper so they could develop their pictures and have them printed to relate this unforgettable history and record-breaking event to the paper’s readers.
I didn’t get an opportunity to watch the race I was so close to until the 11 p.m. newscast.
Although I was so close, yet so far away from seeing this remarkable stallion make history, I would do it again. After all, how many people can say they were the get-way driver from Belmont Park on the day Secretariat made horse-racing history?