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By John Cirillo
Heather and Lou have already booked their weekends for the entire summer; Jessica and Richard are seemingly always on a whirlwind schedule; The Popes fill their calendar months in advance, same with The Perrins.
Me and the bride? Our style is more often than not “fly by the seat of your pants,” “wing-it,” “what’s the weather pattern?”; “let’s see how it plays out” spontaneity.
But for this Triple Crown king, it’s certain that each and every year that the first Saturday in May, two Saturdays later, and the second Saturday in June are as reserved as fine Kentucky bourbon: All things are focused on thoroughbred racing’s epicenter: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.
After last Saturday’s snazzy win by Tapwrit which was almost perfectly mapped out in this corner, but poorly executed in the wagering department (the day also included getting split on four exactas in earlier stakes; and a 27-1 shot winner that was only played on the bottom of exacta tickets), I lamented that I hadn’t surrounded myself with enough keen, non-evasive analysis for discussion purposes only. We should have stayed with the “Moose” and the “A Train” near the paddock, but wanted to watch the races live and take in the ambiance and proceedings.
So, here’s the plan for Saturday, June 9, 2018, flights and hotels ready to be booked, and away we go, no arguments please, no questions asked:
On Friday, June 8, 2018. Vinnie Martini (Orlando), Johnny O. (Tampa), and Rich “All Grey Pick Three” Rose (Palm Beach) take morning flights from those respective airports to Westchester.
Courtesy airport pick up to provided by Cirillo World lead driver (that would be me), and trio is quickly whisked (possibly with New Castle police escort) to the Kittle House in nearby Chappaqua.
Group checks in, gets settled, and it’s on to Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway for Dan Rooney classic burgers, and simulcast wagering on the always-stocked Friday card at Belmont. We also take a preliminary look at the Belmont Stakes.
Dinner: back up north for exquisite Italian dining at Peppino’s Ristorante in Katonah, with stuffed artichokes, clams oregonata, veal, chicken and eggplant parmigiana among the menu highlights. I picked and watch one of my most famous longshot selections – Better Talk Now in the Breeders Cup – and celebrated I’ll Have Another and Funny Cide‘s Derby upsets there (not to mention many birthdays). Proprietor Joe DiScala does the best job at any Westchester Italian restaurant, hands down, and is a horse owner and handicapper, too; that’s how we first met when I was reading the Racing Form at the gym, ages ago.
But front and center will be the primary focus: handicapping the stakes-laden Saturday Belmont card, that along with the third jewel in the Triple Crown includes: the Brooklyn (1 ½ miles), the Acorn (1 mile), the Ogden Phipps (1 1/16th), the Jaipur (6 furlongs), the Woody Stephens (7 furlongs), the Just A Game (1 mile), the Metropolitan Mile, the Manhattan (1 ¼ miles) and of course the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes (1 ½ miles). Of course, we will seek out the “All Grey” Pick 3’s available on the card, as well.
After stuffing our bellies and filling our craniums with analysis, the boys will be Mercedes-Benzed back to the Kittle House (I’ll have to clean out the backseat of the summer chairs, newspapers, and old Racing Forms) for a much-needed good night’s sleep after a whirlwind day but the best is yet to come.
There will be an early 8:45 pickup to beat the traffic to Belmont Park with an estimated arrival time of 9:45 am.
We’ll already have our tickets in hand, and then proceed to the Clubhouse paddock area, and expect to settle in and visit with the likes of WFAN Radio elite host and racing expert Marc Malusis and Horse Racing Radio Network supreme analyst Anthony Stabile; the Moose and the Big A will chime in with their opinions on the Belmont after we catch up and do the customary photo ops. We will puff on cigars – only the best – maybe Ashtons or Davidoffs to get the day off to a smoking start.
We expect that we will run into the likes of such thoroughbred mavens as Jim Gluckson, Bill Nader, Allen Gutterman, Tom Werblin, Jay Privman, Drew Mollica, and Joe Pell, just to name a few, possibly Tim Rooney and Bob Galterio, not to mention NBC Sports top-of-the-heap host Bob Costas.
Time to identify the word “Mush” which is defined a jinx particularly in gambling quarters. None need apply to join us. Limited invitations will be sent to the following: race callers supreme Dave Johnson, Tom Durkin and Vic Stauffer (we will do preliminary handicapping and discussion at Dave’s Belmont soiree at Sardi’s on Wednesday night); brothers Brendan and Sean Burke, PR chums Terry Lyons, Matt McCullough and Shaun Clair; Jonny Newman may want to take Jonny, Jr. and Lily to the “zoo” (his reference to the paddock area) and a handful of others.
Sister Claudia and friend Lorraine and their beaus may want to come to re-live all of our first Belmonts when we witnessed the greatest thoroughbred of all time – Secretariat – put an exclamation point on his Triple Crown, winning by the length of the stretch. That was way back in ’73 when the legendary racing fan and good guy, Brooklyn Joe Messina, took this reporter to his Belmont “Maiden Breaker” in the backyard, and the kid was hooked, becoming (pat on the back) one of the premiere long shot players in history.
Maybe sister Lucie and niece Kristin Nicole and nephew Timothy Ryan will take in their first Belmont. Brother in law John P., Johnny Torres and Lou Jr. have been a part of previous Belmont proceedings and may be on hand schedule permitting. Can we convince Greg Gallo and Dick Klayman out of retirement? Former Yankees World Champ Roy White will be on the guest list.
Now, let’s get back to the matter at hand, more on Belmont Day: If there’s room, we may be herded into the Joe Buono trackside pen at the top of the stretch, where the former WFUV Radio and Cirillo World star holds court with ample eats in a pre-birthday celebration with 60 of his closest friends. It’s become an annual tradition of recent vintage.
Bring your binoculars, please (on Saturday I forgot to bring them, arrrggghhh) because there’s no better way to watch a horse race than live and in living color. We’ll secure reserved seats in the Grandstand at the eighth pole, or better yet at the finish line, to watch the riveting action.
Speaking of finishes, two of the most riveted I witnessed live were these: a gallant Real Quiet, the rafters shaking so much so that I thought I might fall into the second floor and had to balance myself, thwarted in his bid for the Triple Crown by Victory Gallop in a “they hit the wire together-too close to call” photo for the ages; and in the Breeders Cup Classic, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and helicopters in the sky, down to my last $140, “Tiznow wins it for America,” was the Tom Durkin call, turning back Arc de Triomphe champion Sakee at the wire, and I leave the track with two grand with perfectly executed wagering. Thank you Chris McCarron.
(I digress here just for a moment, because I love this interesting sidebar on Tiznow, one of my all time favorites: Tiznow was known as a quirky horse, especially late in his career. Sometimes reluctant to work in the morning included one time prior to the aforementioned 2001 Breeders’ Cup. He spent more than a half hour resisting jockey McCarron’s urging to break into a gallop. In his stallion barn at WinStar legend has it that Tiznow actually figured out how to unlatch his door to let himself out into the main hall. It has also been reported that he does not like the feel of concrete on his feet and will adjust his steps so he doesn’t have to walk over it).
Anyway, back to the All Grey Pick 3, which is written in stone and may never be duplicated, but we will keep trying. It was 1997, RR and I were a tandem, and it seemed that we hit every race on that day other than Touch Gold in his denial of Silver Charm’s Triple Crown bid. Smoke Glacken, the handsome steel-grey speedster won the first leg, and it was capped Ops Smile as a bombs away winner in the finale leg, taking the Manhattan with a stylish performance under Robbie Davis (I can never remember which horse won the middle leg).
Next year we may bring “la valigia” (Italian for the briefcase) to carry all of our winnings on this historic day: June 9, 2018. At the very least, the head of the mutual department will have to wrap the crisp, hundred dollar bills into wads so we can stuff them into our pants and suit pockets.
Even though it will take an hour to get out of the parking lot (there is a price to be paid for elation), an ecstatic, exhilarated, euphoric foursome will head back to the Kittle House for a dinner to celebrate a day for the ages.
Nothing like planning ahead, eh?