More than a thousand residents gathered on Hempstead Turnpike to celebrate the 12th annual Elmont/Belmont Stakes Parade on June 1. The procession, the largest one so far, kicked off the preparatory events for the 151st annual Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown races on June 9.
No horse is vying for the Triple Crown this year, but New York Racing Association President Dave O’Rourke said that the festivities would be just as big this year as any other. NYRA officials said the Elmont/Belmont Stakes Parade is a kickoff to a three-day festival at Belmont, which marks the start of the summer racing season in New York.
“The Belmont Stakes Racing Festival is a celebration that reflects the interests of our many community partners who take pride in demonstrating their support for this internationally acclaimed sporting event that we have the good fortune to host each year,” O’Rourke said. “Belmont Park and the Belmont Stakes are a part of the fabric of our community.”
The procession, led by veterans of the Elmont American Legion Post 1033 and Elmont elected officials, had residents march from the Elmont Memorial Library to Belmont Park as they celebrated the community and welcomed the racing fervor.
Ralph Esposito, of Elmont, the parade chairman, said the event encompasses everything that makes his community great. “It’s about unifying everyone and celebrating our tradition at Belmont,” Esposito said.
The event brought local business groups, scout troops, dancers from Elmont’s schools and members of the Sewanhaka Central High School District marching bands. Longtime community advocate Mable Johnston, who was this year’s grand marshal, said she was honored to walk beside her neighbors as she helped ring in the start of the Belmont Stakes festivities. Johnston is a member for the St. Vincent De Paul Church volunteer outreach group and Jamaica Square Civic Association. She has also served several years as president of both Clara H. Carlson and Sewanhaka High School PTAs.
Johnston said the Elmont/Belmont Stakes parade is a chance for the local community to take pride in the historic Belmont Park. She was surprised when she learned she would be the grand marshal this year, but she reveled in the excitement of the parade.
“We look forward to the parade every year, and it’s beautiful that the people of Elmont join together to celebrate the races,” Johnston said.
For Paul Sapienza, a lifelong Elmont resident and president of the Elmont Chamber of Commerce, the festivities surrounding the Belmont Stakes are a yearly reminder of the history and greatness of Belmont Park. The annual commotion at Belmont reminds Sapienza of the 1960s and ’70s, when thousands of drivers flooded Hempstead Turnpike daily to get to the racetrack.
"We hold a special place in our hearts for the parade because Belmont Park, and the Belmont Stakes are a big part of our community, and it's such a great way to celebrate that," Sapienza said. "The kids love it. The schools love it. Everybody gets behind it, and it brings the local community together. Everyone has representation, and it draws us all together."
The Belmont Stakes will be held on June 9.