Tampa Bay Sports Day

Sports Beat “Belmont’s Big Day”

It has been 36 years since a thoroughbred has been able to win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont, a.k.a. theTriple Crown. Many have won the first two races only to come up short at the mile-and-a half Belmont Stakes.

In 1979 Spectacular Bid appeared to be a thoroughbred in the same league as Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed but he stepped on a safety pin and was not up to the Belmont challenge. In 2004 Smarty Jones, the pride of Philadelphia Park, had his Triple Crown dreams dashed at Belmont while in 2008, Big Brown, who went off as 1-5 favorite, proved to be yet another also-ran. Two years ago, I’ll Have Another, who was so dominant at Churchill Downs and Pimlico, was scratched two days before the race. Thoroughbred racing officials are obviously praying that California Chrome will be able to break the Triple Crown hex.

The New York Racing Association is going all out to get a record crowd Saturday for the 2014 Belmont Stakes. In addition to the big race, former Yankees centerfielder and current popular jazz guitarist Bernie Williams will perform as will St. Albans native James Todd Smith who is better known as hip-hop legend and actor LL Cool J.

While the Belmont Stakes is obviously the highlight of the New York thoroughbred racing season there is a lot of racing still to go at this beautiful facility located just a stone’s throw over the Queens border in Elmont. Unfortunately attendance here, like at most tracks (Del Mar located just north of San Diego is the one notable exception), has badly dwindled.

NYRA officials would be smart to bring back the free concerts with name acts like they had in the 1970s and early ‘80s to increase the weekend gate. There are more nearby gambling options than ever for consumers as Atlantic City officials will glumly concede.

Although they can’t say anything publicly, NYRA executives can’t be happy to be sharing the spotlight this week with the New York Rangers who are back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years.

South Jamaica rap star Curtis “Fifty Cent” Jackson, who will be performing a week from Saturday at Citi Field following the Mets game that day, became a national punch line after his ceremonial first pitch last Tuesday night went awry.

Mets relief pitcher Carlos Torres sympathized with Jackson. “It’s not easy to throw a pitch from a major league mound to home plate if you haven’t done it. I have seen many professional athletes badly bounce their throws to the catcher,” he told me before the Mets game in Philadelphia last Friday night.

Media critics love to take aim at the Yankees radio team of John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman for a multitude of reasons but I have always found them to be an entertaining duo. I have always admired their chemistry as well as their desire to appeal to listeners who are neither stat geeks nor diehard team rooters.

A good example of Sterling and Waldman at the top of their game was last Friday night as the Yankees were getting soundly beaten by the Minnesota Twins. All of a sudden John Sterling started getting peeved. “I have been broadcasting baseball games for a long time, Suzyn, but for the life of me I can never understand why fans do the wave!” steamed John. “It’s a way of relieving the boredom, John,” Suzyn replied. “Standing up and throwing my hands up in the air every few seconds wouldn’t relieve my boredom!” Sterling retorted.

Book Expo America, the annual publishing trade show, took place at the Javits Center last week. A number of veteran sports scribes such as Bob Ryan, Harvey Araton, Thomas Hauser, and Barry Wilner were autographing advance copies of their forthcoming books. Former major league umpire Al Clark and his co-writer, baseball journalist extra ordinaire Dan Schlossberg, signed copies of their current book “Called Out But Safe.” On a non-sports note, Astoria resident Lincoln Macveagh was autographing his debut novel, “Paisley Mischief.”

Williamsport, Pennsylvania may have the Little League World Series but the National Youth Baseball Championships will be taking place on Yaphank, Long Island the first two weekends in August. The NYBC differs from the Little League in that it features teams of 12 year-olds that travel around the country to compete. It also incorporates all major league rules such as stealing bases.

The new Angelina Jolie film, “Maleficent,” which looks at the story of Sleeping Beauty from a different perspective is not only a big film at the box office but it’s a licensing giant as well. Mattel is creating “Maleficent” toys which is not much of a surprise but the cable shopping network, HSN, has created a whole line of clothing and jewelry based on what Jolie’s character wears in the movie.