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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Belmont’s a Bargain

Belmont Park has traditionally been one of the region’s most underappreciated sports venues but that may change during its spring/summer meet, which began last week and continues through Sunday, July 26.

Compared to major league baseball, Belmont is starting to look like a bargain. General grandstand admission is $2 per person, and children ages 12 and under are admitted for free. General parking is $2. To lure customers in May, Belmont has reduced to $1 from $2 its general admission and parking prices on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays for the balance of this month.

But it is the weekends when Belmont comes alive, especially on Sundays, which are billed as Family Fun Days from noon to 4 p.m. Those with preconceived notions about who goes to a thoroughbred horse racing track are usually surprised to learn that face painters, a petting zoo and $1 pony rides for small children are a staple of Belmont Park’s Sunday afternoons. A duck pond and a large playground can be found in Belmont’s backyard, too. Mom and Dad are able to wager on the races because betting windows and televisions are a short walk from the Park’s backyard picnic tables.

To market themselves to the after-work crowd, Belmont is also continuing its ‘Party at the Park’ initiative, with the first of what are usually nine-race cards starting at 3 p.m., rather than 1 p.m., on six Friday evenings (June 12, June 19, June 26, July 10, July 17 and July 24). There are live musical performances which get under way after the program’s final race on the aforementioned Fridays, beginning around 7:15 p.m.

When the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) said it would discontinue for now its service to Belmont Park because of the MTA’s budget crisis, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) realized such a move could put a damper on its attendance figures.

NYRA has since announced it is providing free shuttle bus service to Belmont Park from the LIRR’s Queens Village station. The buses are departing from the corner of Springfield Boulevard and Jamaica Avenue at 12:30 p.m., while return service to Queens Village is being provided 15 minutes after the last live race. There are drop-off points at both Belmont’s clubhouse and grandstand entrances. The pick-up point is Belmont’s grandstand center gate entrance. The LIRR is, as of this writing, only going to Belmont Park from Jamaica, Woodside and Penn Station stations on Saturday, May 30 and Saturday, June 6, Belmont Stakes Day.

Yes, mark June 6 on your calendar, if you want to visit Belmont Park when the site is playing host to its largest crowd. There is enough space for many fans in first-come, first-served seating, even on Belmont’s biggest day. The grandstand, backyard and trackside apron areas offer plenty of free benches, chairs and picnic tables, although a better bet is to apply for reserved Belmont Stakes seats, priced from $20 to $120 per person, through NYRA’s lottery system.

Those who traditionally participate in this lottery were sent an application in March for the 2009 Belmont Stakes but a visit to www.nyra.com can offer you guidance on reserved seating availability for June 6.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net