Civilized people of the world reacted with horror and sadness over the acts of evildoers that transpired in two American cities and rural Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. Less than seven weeks afterwards, on October 27, the 18th annual Breeders’ Cup was held at Belmont Park. It was the first major sporting event in the New York City metro area after Al-Qaeda hijackers flew two jets into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan.

I had procured tickets to the Breeders’ Cup months before the terrorist attacks and was anticipating a late fall weekend in the Big Apple…until 9/11/2001. After that, my enthusiasm dissipated. Like the nation as a whole, my mood was still gloomy in late October and a great deal of anger at the perpetrators had been added to the emotional mix.

Finally, the week of the Breeders’ Cup, I decided for sure to drive to New York. My family and I would visit Ground Zero on Friday night to contemplate and to quietly pay our respects to the innocent people who perished. The next day we would travel to Belmont Park, even if the normal excitement of a Breeders’ Cup day would be muted.

As we walked around lower Manhattan, the smell of smoke and death were in the air and people were talking in respectfully hushed tones if at all. I came across a policeman and told him that he was a hero in my mind; so many of the safety forces had died in the line of duty on that fateful September day.

Saturday dawned bleak, chilly, and windy. The heavy security at Belmont Park looked incongruous, a reminder of the danger that cast a shadow over every event with a crowd. Soon, however, the exploits of the likes of Johannesburg, Fantastic Light, and Tiznow buoyed the fans and obscured the weather, the armed guards, and the tragic backdrop. The Irish contingent’s wild celebration after Johannesburg won the Juvenile Colt race got everyone going. It was St. Patrick’s Day in late October and then some.

Horse races and indeed all sporting contests don’t mean much in the scheme of things. Yet they can provide a diversion from life’s trials and tribulations and unite people if only for awhile. Conservatives and liberals, rich and poor, and folks of various colors and ethnicities congregate at a racetrack on a big race day and many have the same rooting interest.

To a racing fan, a scintillating stretch run in a Grade I race is emotionally uplifting and a repeat win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic by a Tiznow can remind us of the value of perseverance in the face of life’s adversities.

The 2001 Breeders’ Cup was a welcome respite from the tragedy burned into my psyche. It is my most unforgettable day at the races.

In Memory of the Victims of September 11, 2001

Copyright © 2011 Horse Racing Business


  1. Beautiful…thanks.

  2. It is Sept 11 and the weather in Boston is identical to that tragic day 10 years ago……Hope we never forget the lost lives. Beautiful piece……thank God for the diversions.