Mother Nature proves costly for Vinny Fitzpatrick in his pursuit of fast buck

Clontarf’s finest has to pinch himself as wife Angie sets up a trip to Belmont Park

 Tonalist (Joel Rosario) lands the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park, New York.

Tonalist (Joel Rosario) lands the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park, New York.

Wed, Jun 11, 2014, 06:00

Vinny Fitzpatrick had never worn a nasal strip before and it felt kind of funny, as if it his nostrils were being pulled back slightly. But he could breathe that bit better which was a good thing, because on this day of days, there was so much to breathe in.

For Vinny was at Belmont Park with a cold beer in his paw and a sense of wonder galloping through his soul. From his vantage point, Vinny had a perfect view of the oval-shaped racetrack, a verdant green, enclosed by a ring of brown dirt.

To his left, a massive throng of race-goers crammed the biggest grandstand he’d ever seen – Vinny reckoned it must stretch out for three furlongs. While down below, by the winning post, a short round man belted out New York, New York on a stage with gusto.

It could have been Frank Sinatra. In fact, it was; Sinatra’s son, Frank junior. There was half an hour to post time for the Belmont Stakes and Vinny was as happy as a roly-poly porker in a muddy sty.

The shock trans-Atlantic excursion began with a call to Angie on Thursday morning from her chiefs in Winston Racing with an 11th hour offer for return flights to New York, two nights’ accommodation and VIP tickets to the races at Belmont. Angie had declined but being the quick thinker she is, suggested her husband, Vinny might like to go instead.

As he boarded the United Airways flight the following morning, Vinny had to pinch himself. He was going to the races, and not just any race but the famed Belmont Stakes, where Champagne Chrome was attempting to become the first horse since 1978 to win the Triple Crown of Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.

American racing

Vinny recalled the days of the 70s when Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed put American racing on the global map. Since then, 10 horses had been loaded into the stalls at Belmont with the first two legs of the treble on their CV, only to have dirt kicked in their faces.

This year, it was the turn of California Chrome, a horse that cost buttons, to seek racing immortality and Vinny was going to be there to see it happen. Vinny had never been to New York before and was goggle-eyed by the skyscrapers, the landmarks, and the sheer vibrancy of the city that never sleeps.

Saturday dawned warm and sunny, and Vinny was up with the larks in Fitzpatrick’s Hotel, a home from home for the Irish on Lexington Avenue. The Winston’s whipper-in was Phonsie Murphy, a former Flat jockey, known as ‘The Scurrier’, whose job was to escort the crew of 12 to and from the track where they would be fed and watered.

The journey to Long Island had been manic as Penn Station was jammers with punters queuing for tickets, and jostling for seats, but the hassle had been worth it.

There were 13 races on the card, the first at 11.35, and Vinny waded in. The betting was slightly different in the States as you could back a horse to win, be second (place) or be third (show).

Vinny’s initial bet was a $10 across the board, or $30 per race, but as the losers mounted, he began chasing his money. Soon, he had doubled his stake but couldn’t find a winner. Usually, losing made Vinny tetchy but he couldn’t wipe the smile off his face as he rambled around the enclosures between races, noting the photos of former big race winners at Belmont.

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