Friday, March 13, 2009

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Frozen in Time

Snarky comments about Al Gore explaining a foot of snow in March aside (last time I looked, all you global warming skeptics, it was still winter), the sight of Belmont Park under a blanket of the white stuff is nothing short of majestic.

Standing near the gap on the main track, there was nothing ahead but a vast expanse of white covering the entire infield and the track, unmarred by a single hoofprint. The air was so crisp it almost crackled, and except for the muted hoofbeats of a solitary, unseen horse on the training track, it was silent.

Nothing moved. There were no people, no animals, no birds, just the snow, the track, and the grandstand, frozen, as if in a snapshot.

Hard against the stillness was the echoed wall of noise that greeted Smarty Jones as he turned for home in the Belmont Stakes, while the immense whiteness was a tempting screen upon which to project images from the past: Cigar sweeping under the wire to cap off his perfect season in the Classic; Forego barreling down the stretch under 137 pounds in the Marlboro Cup; Curlin looking like equine royalty as he emerged from the tunnel for the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

A furlong away, in the barns, the snow was little more than a cold and wet nuisance to the grooms who had to break through the ice in the horses' buckets and the exercise riders who were up and out on the training track at first frozen light, bundled up and looking like pumpkins atop their frisky mounts.

Belmont Park was not built to accomodate fans once the weather turns. Even when racing returns in April, the chill lingers on in the grandstand, and there is much huddling in the fall when the sun's path takes it behind the bullding at the end of the day's card.

But to experience it in the grasp of winter, perhaps, is to appreciate it for what it was meant to be, the timeless juncture where horse racing's past, present and future come together.