Sidewalks of New York - Belmont Stakes


Triple Crown? Song Should Be Restored To Belmont Post Parade Status

With the Preakness out of the way—and with a credible Triple Crown contestant in California Chrome looming over the Belmont Stakes two-and-a-half weeks hence—it’s that time again for me to rail against New York’s abhorrent disrespect of music tradition.

Can you imagine what would happen if, say, the Kentucky Derby changed its theme song from “My Old Kentucky Home” to “Kentucky Woman”? Or if the Preakness switched from “Maryland, My Maryland” to “Streets of Baltimore”?

Yet back in the Giuliani days, New York City changed its traditional Belmont theme from “Sidewalks of New York”—a poignantly sentimental 1894 copyright by lyricist James W. Blake and vaudeville actor/composer Charles B. Lawlor that is also known as “East Side, West Side” (the first words of the chorus)—to the relatively garish “New York, New York” title song from the 1977 Scorsese movie.

This was in 1997. Then to add insult to injury, the New York Racing Association in 2010 went with the crass Jay-Z/Alicia Keys hip-hop ballad hit “Empire State of Mind”—which outboasted the Frank Sinatra-sung “New York, New York” with the singer’s self-anointing as “the new Sinatra.” Luckily, it was a one-time thing; unluckily, “New York, New York” was restored as the post parade theme the following year.

Sidewalks of New York - sheet musicThis all bodes bad for Cali Chrome. According to Wikipedia, it is believed that horses who have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown have been jinxed because of the change in song from “Sidewalks of New York.” Indeed, in the years following the last Triple Crown winner Affirmed’s historic victory at the Belmont in 1978, there were four dual winners who failed to complete the cycle between 1979 and 1996; in the years following the 1997 song switch to “New York, New York,” eight horses fell short.

Per Wikipedia, “It is said that the ghost of Mamie O’Rourke will never let another Triple Crown winner emerge unless and until ‘The Sidewalks of New York’ is reinstated as the post parade song for The Belmont Stakes”—Mamie O’Rourke being the one who taught lyricist Blake how to “trip the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York.”

I, for one, don’t bust the ghost. “The Sidewalks of New York” was good enough for everyone from Mel Tormé, Duke Ellington, Nat “King” Cole and even The Grateful Dead (they played it once, in New York in 1972, as an instrumental lead-in to “One More Saturday Night”). It should be restored to Belmont post parade status, not just for the sake of tradition, but for the Triple Crown prospects of California Chrome.

Jim Bessman

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