To no one’s surprise, Saturday in Long Island broke gloomily, with neither dark angry clouds nor a blazing sun. The sky just hovered, as did an unmoving humidity. The clouds are burning off now, and it could be a sunny afternoon.
Belmont Park feels crowded and cramped. Everything is behind some sort of barrier. Every passage way is too narrow for the people trying to get through it. What should have been the anxious buzz of people hoping to see history is now the unsettled disappointment of knowing they won’t. The crowd isn’t nearly what it would have been but it’s still large and, remember, there’s nobody allowed out in the infield here. There’d been talk of 110,000 or even 120,000 people finding room in a place that sits about 32,000.
Over at Barn 9, where I’ll Have Another is now resting in his stall, things were quiet. The colt’s hot walker and groom sat out on some stairs, bantering in Spanish, laughing.
The plan to have I’ll Have Another lead the post-procession parade has been cancelled. Instead, he’ll go through a ceremonial retirment. He’ll go to the paddock around 5:40, then to the winner circle ten minutes later. Doug O’Neill, his trainer, will then remove his saddle. Forty minutes after that, the other horses will run the Belmont.
A press box that was supposed to hold many of the most well-known columnists in the country – even in the midst of the NBA playoffs, Stanley Cup Finals, and the runup to tonight’s big fight in Las Vegas – has many empty seats. A regular turf writer spotted soccer on the television and cursed as he jumped to change the channel.
Down in the concourse, most of the fans I talked to are seeing a late duel between the two favorites: Dullahan and Union Rags. But now they say, they’re taking a look at some of the long-shots. They’ve got to. They’ve got to transfer their hope to something.