Apr 9th 2008 11:40 pm |
This year’s spring/summer meet at Belmont Park, one of the classic venues for American racing, starts its 103rd year of existence. To get everyone ready for the meet at Belmont, I did some digging at the Library of Congress and found this gem (click to enlarge):
It is the May 5, 1905 cover of the New York Tribune with the news of Belmont’s first opening day. Download a PDF copy of the full text of the story.
The entire article is well worth a look but I have transcribed some highlights below.
The majority of the article details the day’s racing but I found the description of the crowd and their reaction to the new track especially interesting. Here is how the author described the “Variegated assemblage”:
The attendance, morever, was not restricted to any one locality nor to any one class. They came, men and women, old and young, from the classic confines of Boston and Cambridge, from Philadelphia and from the sporting environs of Chicago and the coast cities. The Bowery and the Avenue mingled in the surging democracy of the betting ring. And both the Bowery and the Avenue wore its best clothes — and went home with them tattered and torn. In the more exclusive precincts of the clubhouse and the paddock there was a tendency to affect the raiment of Goodwood and Ascot, and tall hats and frock coats stood out conspicuously in the picture.
Not surprisingly, the crowd found the track’s size a bit befuddling. When Belmont opened it had (and still has) no equal in the United States. The huge expanse of the Belmont oval took some getting used to. Under the heading “Plaints from the Stands” the article continued:
‘Where do we come in?’ demanded the fieldstand. ‘We might as well be in Battle Creek, Mich. The ponies don’t look no bigger’n pug dogs when they get within a couple of miles of the finish.’ And from the upper tiers of the grandstand came another lament: ‘The only way a man can get up here and back in the same afternoon is by use of a balloon or a flying machine,’ it complained, and one individual went so far as to assert that he left his seat in ample time to bet the first race and got there just in time to hear that King Pepper had won the last race.
Another element of the new track that had the attendees perplexed was the direction in which the horses ran (You will notice this is the headline image above). Belmont Park founders, August Belmont and William C. Whitney, had the races run in the “English fashion” (that is, clockwise). A tradition that lasted for the first 15 years of at the track. The “pikers” at opening day weren’t impressed:
The scheme of running races the reverse way of the track, which the crowd insisted upon calling ‘the wrong way’, had a tendency to confuse the spectators who were not accustomed to it, and threw them momentarily out of stride.”
However, the anonymous author of the Tribune article had this final word on the crowd’s reaction:
But all this faultfinding was inspired because of the strangeness and newness and bigness of the surroundings, and when the regulars – for whom most of it came – adapt themselves to the new order of things Belmont Park will undoubtedly become the most popular racing inclosure (sic) in the country.”
A final interesting tidbit: The Metropolitan Handicap (aka The Met Mile) ran on opening day and ended in a dead heat between Sysonsby and Race King . Read the full text for a detailed description of a dead heat in the days before the “photo finish.”
Thanks for reading!