Bringing the buzz back to Belmont

Residents revel in California Chrome's Triple Crown bid


On Saturday, Belmont Park will play host to yet another Triple Crown contender, and just as local Elmont and Franklin Square residents will be watching — either from the stands or nearby, in their homes or in local watering holes — so will the rest of America.

California Chrome, the horse taking center stage with a chance to end the longest drought in Triple Crown history, 36 years, will face his biggest test on Saturday in the Belmont Stakes. Having won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, the 3-year-old must endure the longest of the three races — a mile and a half — and whether or not he succeeds, residents have been reveling in the buzz surrounding Chrome’s quest for weeks.

Elmont resident Consuelo Butron said that even though he doesn’t normally take an interest in horseracing, local businesses will no doubt benefit, with the eyes of the sports world focused on Belmont. “The Cinderella story of California Chrome goingfor the Triple Crown created a bucket list to the fans,” Butron said. “I may not be one of them, [but] as a resident, the popularity and the fierce history of competition will pull more fans and advertisers, [which] will convert to an increased revenue.”

One of those businesses is the Elmont Applebee’s, three blocks east of the racetrack’s main entrance. “[We do] see a small increase in business on the day of the Belmont Stakes,” the restaurant’s director of operations, Kurt Pahlitzsch, told the Herald. “The Belmont Stakes is a destination event, attracting more than 100,000 people to the area. We see a benefit from a branding standpoint, as our location and signage is highly visible to slow-moving traffic.”

Lori Stein Halop, whose parents moved to Elmont in the 1950s and who is now raising her own family there, said she anticipates a small increase in revenue for local businesses, but not much else. Halop said she believes the Stakes, although held in Elmont, somehow ends up giving neighboring Garden City more exposure, thanks to the Garden City Belmont Festival.

“I’m sure the handful of delis, gas stations, pizza places, and, I think, [a couple of] restaurants may see a small bump in business,” Halop said. “But other than that, I don’t see what the Belmont Stakes adds to the immediate area. The focus always winds up in Garden City! Local news channels always film the lovely sidewalk seating along Seventh Street, the gazebo on Hilton Avenue and the Garden City Hotel. As a community, I think the most we get from Belmont is a reference point for directions.”

Christina Canzoneri Mcgrath agreed that the exposure Garden City receives does not make much sense. “It’s a shame the track is in Elmont and they have a parade in Garden City for the race!” Mcgrath said.

Although some residents, such as Phil Cerafice, focused on the traffic and congestion brought by the Stakes, saying “it impacts the local streets and Cross Island Parkway,” others, like Michael Cucciniello, said that members of those communities capitalize on that traffic.

“I see it as a positive, not so much to Franklin Square, but surrounding communities, such as Elmont and Garden City,” Cucciniello, of Franklin Square, said. He added that the congestion is a bit more bearable for residents because many of them charge $20 to allow fans to park in their driveways.

Danielle Marie, who said she is not much of a fan but watches the Stakes every year because her mother works in the Purchasing Department of the New York Racing Association, can’t deny the buzz California Chrome has brought to the area.

“I’m probably not the typical demographic for horseracing, but it’s always more exciting when it’s a Triple Crown contender,” she said. “We definitely notice an increase in excitement. Both my mother and I hope that California Chrome can do it. It’s the longest race of the three, so I hope he doesn’t run out of steam too soon.

“It’s been too long without a Triple Crown winner!” Marie concluded.