ELMONT, NY - JUNE 08: Policemen and Police Horses stand at attention before the 145th running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 8, 2013 in Elmont, New York.Photo Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images
There exists a massive parking lot in Elmont, New York that’s much larger than it needs to be. Most of the year, anyway. But one magical day each year, this parking lot at Belmont Park is packed with cars, trucks, trailers and SUVs. Some of these vehicles carry casual fans. Others are full of diehard racing enthusiasts who speak in hushed tones of mudders and the like. And in years past, all of these people would be guaranteed one of the best tailgates of the year at the Belmont Stakes.
After all, Belmont is the third of three races that make up the Triple Crown — a series of races that starts with a tailgate of epic proportions at the Kentucky Derby. It was only fitting, then, that that glorious party of some weeks ago conclude with a grand festivity on Long Island.
That is, to say, it was only fitting.
Time was, you could drink your face off at Belmont. While the sun beat down on your shoulders and you had to just about race to finish your beer before it warmed up in the June heat. There were grills and Nerf footballs and music and dancing and all sorts of loveliness that makes life worth living. And even better, you could bring an entire cooler into the stands. Think about that! You could just march up to the gates, stare a uniformed officer directly in the eye and say, “I have a cooler full of beer, and as a red-blooded, tax-paying American, I’m gonna head inside that race track, I’m gonna make some damn fool bets, and I’m gonna drink to my heart’s content!” And the only thing they could say in response was, “God bless you, sir. You patriot. You proud noonday reveler.” And you would drink. And it would be good.
Photo Credit: Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Today, there are only ghosts, the echoes of tailgaters past. The sound, the joy… all long since dead. Today, giant signs advertise, in no uncertain terms, “NO TAILGATING.” And the lot itself — once the source of so much happiness, so much life — now quietly slumbers; the brilliant colors replaced by chrome and grey.
We tried. We tried in earnest to tailgate. The moment we stepped out of our car, we were swarmed. Uniformed personnel — either security or police, I don’t know (or I don’t care) — admonished us that there was to be no tailgating under any circumstances.
We found a workaround. We all got back in the cars. And rotating between three different automobiles, we hung out and drank some ice cold silver bullets in anticipation of the race.
The funny thing to me is that we’ve spent much of this year, you and I, dear reader, rearranging the expectation of what a tailgate can be. According to the authorities at the at the Elmont Police Department, apparently a tailgate cannot happen in your car. We were just drunk people in the back seat (and not in the fun, Lover’s Lane kinda way).
And so, loyal readers of Tailgate Fan, I come to you crestfallen. For I did not attend a tailgate last weekend. I attended what amounted to little more than high school drinking antics. Was it fun once we got inside the track? Oh, sure. It was a blast. But last I checked, this wasn’t “Horse Race Fan dot com.” We’re here, you and I, for one very specific purpose. And that was a purpose that the parking lot at the Belmont Race Track couldn’t satisfy.
Photo Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images
Ladies and gentlemen, I daresay that the atrocities committed last weekend are a very affront to freedom itself. Yes, I’m being melodramatic. But I don’t care! Tailgating means every bit to a red-blooded American as the Black Pearl did to Captain Jack Sparrow. Just think: you have roughly 300 chances to tailgate every football season, and that’s only if you’ve mastered the art of time travel and teleportation. Outside of football season, how many chances are there really? Like, 12? And the Belmont Stakes had the chance to be one of the best. Instead, it folded its pocket aces, and took its chances being just another horse race.
I’m not mad at the Belmont Stakes. I’m disappointed. This non-tailgate was like Jay Leno’s standup career — borne of such stratospheric potential, only to rest comfortably among the mediocre. This tailgate is Greg Oden’s career. It’s the last episode of Seinfeld. It’s going back and playing the Simpsons arcade game as an adult. It’s nothing worth getting angry about. It’s just sad. We deserve better. And Belmont deserves better.
And so, my friends, for once, I do not celebrate a tailgate. Rather, I mourn it. Requiescat in pace, Belmont tailgate. May your passing teach a bitter lesson to vulnerable tailgates nationwide.