Horse Racing
Kieran Darcy, ESPN Staff Writer 131d

Triple Crown drought wasn't long, but Belmont crowd still sought history

Horse Racing

Elmont, N.Y. -- The noise is what I'll remember most. Other than the horse, of course.

There were 13 races at Belmont Park on Saturday, but only one reason why it was a sellout crowd of 90,000 people. Justify was bidding to become just the 13th horse to win the Triple Crown.

The gates opened at 8:30 a.m. ET, and the first race was at 11:35 a.m. But the day didn't really feel different until about 6 p.m., when the first 10 races were done and the Belmont Stakes was on deck.

The paddock area, where the horses are brought prior to entering the racetrack, was mobbed by fans well before they arrived. Everyone's attention was on No. 1, Justify. After all, not only was he going for the Triple Crown, he would be only the second horse to capture it while still undefeated, after Seattle Slew.

The fact that we were just three years removed from American Pharoah's Triple Crown did not seem to be a fact that was at the forefront for these patrons. 

When Justify left the paddock a few minutes later, accompanied by Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York," seemingly every single fan was holding a cellphone aloft, capturing the moment for themselves.

A hot, sunny day had turned cool and gray by the time Justify and the other nine horses trotted onto the track -- an ominous sign, perhaps. But the fans were having none of that. If you had been watching the horses at the paddock, you had no chance of getting anywhere close to the track for the actual race.

In fact, you couldn't even get fully outside -- you were stuck behind several rows of people already standing underneath the second level. But you could still see the race -- although you might have needed to stand on a bench, or your tippy-toes.

Some fans were still placing bets or grabbing one more drink in the final few minutes before the race began, but most had taken their places and had their eyes fixed on the track. A loud buzz echoed throughout the grandstand.

Then the gates sprang open and Justify surged into the lead as expected. The noise began to build.

Justify continued to hold off his challengers. And it got louder, and louder and louder.

It was only 2 minutes, 28 seconds, but it felt like so much longer. And down the stretch, the roar of the crowd was simply deafening.

And then, suddenly, it was over. It may not have been quite as dramatic as when American Pharoah accomplished the same feat three years ago, breaking a 37-year Triple Crown drought. And Justify was a 4-5 favorite. But this was still something rare, and very special.

That's why most of the fans didn't move when the race ended. They didn't head for the bathroom or another beer. They stood there and watched, and waved, and applauded Justify and jockey Mike Smith when they came around again.

"Wow, wow, wow," the man to my left muttered to himself, looking bewildered.

"So amazing, so amazing," repeated the woman to my right, shaking her head as she did so.

Eventually they, and everyone else around them, turned and began to walk away -- back in the direction of some betting windows, above which were pictures of Seattle Slew and other legendary horses that have graced this track.

Justify has now earned his place on that wall and in history. And 90,000 fans were fortunate enough to see it happen and hear that sound.

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