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Guestwords: Big Red on the Hoof

Thu, 06/06/2024 - 10:10
The old Belmont Park in Nassau County, traditional home of the last leg of the Triple Crown, seen in June of 1913.
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

As near as I can remember, it was a last-minute decision. We made the call to go because we loved attending the races. Not that we did it often, but going to the races was our first outing together in 1952, our first date.     

I bet on Elizabeth Day, number six, and won $30 on a $2 bet. I said I had to call home from the track to tell my parents I would be back later than expected.     

"Call your parents?" he said. "You can't make a phone call from a race track."     

Later, close to 20 years after marrying the greatest guy on earth, the two of us, after creating three grown or almost grown sons, made a decision — we were going to get ourselves to Belmont and watch Secretariat win the Triple Crown. We hoped.     

Off we went that morning of June 9, 1973. I was dressed to the nines — new red shoes, new hat, spring dress. My husband was also appropriately attired and looking wonderful, as usual, excited and happy. It took forever, it seemed, to get through the early races before the big race began. We spent part of the time heading to the paddock to get ourselves a good spot on the rail to view the big prerace parade, the Belmont Stakes contenders.     

We waited, and we waited. And then he came. Big Red. We had never seen anything like him, not like this animal. You couldn't even call him an animal. He was a god. Big, gleaming, full of muscle and shimmering light, a heavenly creature. He was having the time of his life, counting the crowd. If a horse can smile like dogs do, he was smiling.     

He looked us over good. We were not looking him over, he was taking us in. What a charmer; talk about an engaging personality. Huge, he was huge, glistening, full of himself but in a good way. And the eyes. Oh, the eyes. He was without a doubt giving all of us gathered around the paddock the once-over and more.     

We made our way back to the reserved box seats. The entire stadium was poised and tense as a bow string. I vaguely remember saying to my husband, "I'm heading for the rail, I want to see this up close and personal."     

The rest is history. He came down the stretch. Ten, 20, 30 lengths — it couldn't be happening. The noise of the crowd was explosive, and on he came like an engine, still counting the house. He looked up and over at us. He looked like he was loping, just another day at the track was what he was saying, all others behind him he left in the dust, out of sight, out of mind, as he galloped on.

Yes, I remember the screaming, the pounding on the rail of the spectators, the total and complete disbelief at what we had just witnessed. The crying, the tears, the exaltation, and yet not realizing that we had witnessed the supreme effort of a superb athlete the likes of which may never be seen again.     

From then on the day is a semi-blur. How my husband found me is a miracle. When we did finally hook up, he took me to the car and we drove home. I was drained of all of my physical and mental resources, completely used up.     

I climbed into the back seat of the car, wasted, and slept all the way home, my devoted, loyal, trustworthy, unwavering husband taking care of me once again.     

The Triple Crown, June 9, 1973. It was the greatest performance by a racehorse in the 20th century. And, I kept my winning ticket.

Amy Palmer lives in Bridgehampton. The 2024 Belmont Stakes will be held in Saratoga Springs on Saturday as Belmont Park is being rebuilt.

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