With the Triple Crown off the table for 2016, you might think that there is no drama left for the upcoming Belmont Stakes. But, believe it or not, this horse race was rocked by a musical scandal not too long ago.
Each leg of the hallowed U.S. Triple Crown has a signature post parade song. For the Kentucky Derby, it’s “My Old Kentucky Home.” For the Preakness Stakes, it’s “Maryland, My Maryland,” and for the Belmont Stakes, it’s—well, open to debate.
Through 1996, the post parade song for the Belmont was “Sidewalks of New York,” a popular tune about life in New York City during the 1890s. For years, this tune was considered the signature song of New York, and an obvious fit for the Belmont Stake racetrack, located on Long Island just outside the New York City borough of Queens. Here is the Nat King Cole version of this classic.
In 1997, it seems that the management of the Belmont decided that “the Sidewalks of New York” had been wholly eclipsed by another tune as the trademark sound of New York, and thus ushered in the era of “Theme from New York, New York” as the post parade song of choice. It may seem hard to believe, but some racing fans bristled at this change, saying with disdain that it was clearly intended to appeal to a younger audience. In 1997? Really? Take a listen to the famous Frank Sinatra version and decide for yourself whether this was really a radical change.
If traditional Belmont fans were rattled by the switch to “New York, New York,” the attempt to bring in a song that truly appealed to younger audiences in 2010 caused an outright earthquake. That year a New York Racing Authority official told The Associated Press that “the quintessential 21st-century theme song for New York City” was now none other than Jay Z and Alicia Keys “Empire State of Mind.” And this would be the new post parade song for the Belmont.
Posts of protest immediately popped up all over the Internet, but Belmont management held fast to their decision. On the fateful day spectators boldly booed teen singer Jasmine Villegas as she preformed the Alicia Keys portion of the song. In 2011, without any ceremony or explanation, the Belmont Stakes retreated to “New York, New York,” as the post parade song. Who knows if they will ever dare to innovate again.
So, I’ll send you off with a video of Alicia Keys singing the song that was almost the latest signature post parade song of the Belmont Stakes. And, I’ll ask you, is this a radical choice for the Belmont or perhaps really the quintessential 21st-century theme for New York whether racing fans like it or not?
About the Author
Marjorie Wilkinson is the co-founder and co-editor of Counter-Canter Culture—a revolutionary online publication intended to unite the equestrians and equestrian-enthusiasts who aren’t afraid to kick up the dust that has settled on the conventional equine lifestyle. She is also a real-life Hollywood music supervisor and the official curator of Counter-Canter Culture’s musical column, 100% Sound.