As Sam “The Bugler” Grossman played the iconic “First Call” at Belmont Park racetrack, more than a thousand local residents celebrated the 11th annual Elmont/Belmont Stakes Parade on June 2. The procession, the largest one so far, kicked off the preparations for the 150th annual running of the Belmont Stakes, where the nation’s best 3-year-old thoroughbreds will compete in the final leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown on June 9.
In the parade, led by veterans from Elmont American Legion Post 1033 and Elmont’s top elected officials, residents marched from the Elmont Memorial Library to Belmont Park as they celebrated the community and welcomed the racing fervor. Elmont native and parade Chairman Ralph Esposito said the parade encompasses all that makes his community great.
“It’s about unifying everyone and celebrating our tradition at Belmont,” Esposito said.
The event brought out local business groups, scout troops, dancers from Elmont’s schools and members of the Sewanhaka Central High School District marching bands.
Although it was her first parade in Elmont as Town of Hempstead supervisor, this was not Laura Gillen’s first time cheering for the Belmont Stakes. She reminisced about the time her parents took her to see Seattle Slew win the Triple Crown in 1977. Gillen said she hoped to update the memory this year, if Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Justify is first past the post on Saturday.
“This period represents a huge economic boon for the community, and it just energizes your love of the races here,” Gillen said.
The parade honored three grand marshals this year: Sandra Smith, a local activist and the chairwoman of the Sustainable Coalition; Chris Kay, president and CEO of the New York Racing Association; and New York Islanders majority owner Jon Ledecky. The grand marshals were recognized for their commitment in investing major time and money to improve Belmont.
Ledecky was an especially large presence, as his staff, including Islanders mascot Sparky, joined him in the parade and gave out Islanders-themed bracelets and sunglasses to the spectators. Last year, the Islanders claimed Belmont Park as their future home. The team won a bid last December to build an arena complex on 43 acres at the park and bring the hockey team back to Nassau County after several years in Brooklyn. Ledecky even promised Sewanhaka High School sophomore Adriana Sandoval-Lujan a chance to sing the national anthem at an Islanders games.
“It’s a privilege to have Elmont as our new home, and we want to act as an economic engine to support this community and become proper partners,” Ledecky said.
Although the billion-dollar arena project has drawn criticism from local activist groups, who doubt that another stadium on Long Island will actually revitalize the Belmont area, Smith expressed her gratitude for project manager Sterling Property Development’s cooperation. Smith had long been an advocate of construction at Belmont, securing funds from local and state leaders to pay for research and planning. She said that the arena project made sure to include the retail space, hotel and community center that the Sustainable Coalition had asked for in build-
“They chose to listen to us and include our vision in their plan,” Smith said.
Construction on the Belmont Arena is scheduled to begin next summer and be finished in time for the Islanders’ first game in October 2021. As residents cheered for the Islanders, Kay brought the attention back to what would always be a staple for Belmont: horseracing. Kay mentioned that in 2015, when American Pharaoh won the Triple Crown at Belmont, it beat the 50th Super Bowl as sporting event of the year. Now in its 150th year, Kay hopes that this year’s race will be even bigger.
“For 150 years, we are one of the most venerable events in America,” Kay said. “To put it in perspective, our event is older than the World Series, the Rose Bowl and older than the Super Bowl.”
The Belmont Stakes will be held on Saturday, with Justify as the favorite. At press time, oddsmakers favored the 3-year-old at 4-5.