MIKE PESCA, host:
Every jewel in horseracing's Triple Crown has its traditions. At the Kentucky Derby, it's mint juleps and big hats. At Preakness, it's black-eyed susans and big hats. At the Belmont Stakes, it's additional service on the Long Island Railroad. But as Big Brown goes for the Triple Crown this weekend at the 140th running of the Belmont, at least one Long Island family will renew a tradition of their own.
Marty Meehan will be at the race for the 27th straight year, the culmination of a weekend celebration that has grown over the years to include his children and friends from across the country. The Meehans will have 20 or 25 houseguests this weekend, and a group of 40 or 50 attending the race. Marty Meehan joins us now in the studios, along with his son Kevin, and their friend Matt O'Neill, whose first trip to the Belmont led him on a crazy life-changing story. Hello, gentlemen.
Mr. MARTY MEEHAN (Longtime Belmont Stakes Attendee; Host of Annual Party): Hello there.
Mr. KEVIN MEEHAN (Longtime Belmont Stakes Attendee): Hello.
Mr. MATT O'NEILL (Freelance Writer, Horseracing and Breeding): Hello.
PESCA: So, Marty, let's start with you. What's the weekend look like for the Meehans and all their assorted friends and relatives?
Mr. M. MEEHAN: Well, it's supposed to be possible record-high temperatures, and we should have a - maybe a record amount of turnouts at our house for the party.
PESCA: The race is on a Saturday, so when do festivities begin at your house?
Mr. M. MEEHAN: My daughter landed on her flight from Chicago last night. Some friends started to arrive in the later evening. We have jobs for them to do today to set up around the house. We'll get out of work about three o'clock, and we'll, with great excitement, just wait for the carloads of our friends to arrive. The blender will be on high power. The margaritas will be coming out. And we look forward to a lot of laughs and some horseracing games and telling stories of old. It's Belmont Eve.
PESCA: And so do people have places to stay on Long Island? Or do they all crash on your floor?
Mr. M. MEEHAN: We have people staying in our house. The older folks get beds and pull-out couches. The younger ones are on the tents out back, and sleeping bags.
PESCA: And you're the son of Mr. Meehan. Your name is...
Mr. K. MEEHAN: Right. Kevin.
PESCA: Kevin. Kevin, was this just normal for you growing up?
Mr. K. MEEHAN: Oh, absolutely. Growing up, it was kind of like a holiday for us, great times around the house on Friday night, and I really grew up thinking Belmont was a national holiday, as did my sister.
PESCA: What did she say? She said that she liked Belmont more than Christmas?
Mr. K. MEEHAN: Right, and she actually wrote a report on her favorite holiday in school as a second-grader, and it didn't go over too well with the teacher.
(Soundbite of laughter)
PESCA: What did the teacher say, that's gambling? You can't count that as a holiday?
Mr. M. MEEHAN: See, our kids thought it was a national holiday everyone celebrated. So Mary was surprised to find out not everyone knew about Belmont.
PESCA: Oh, my word. And Matt, what's your connection? How'd you get roped in on this thing?
Mr. O'NEILL: Well, like I said, I was a horseracing fan growing up. Went to the track for the first time when I was 13 years old. Grew up in Binghamton and the Binghamton crew was coming down for the '86 Belmont, and they knew I was a horseracing fan. And they invited me along to tag along when I was 15, and came down, and it was Woody Stephens' fifth Belmont win. It's kind of a historic event. And I've been coming almost every year ever since, and actually made a career out of the horseracing business.
PESCA: What do you do for a living now?
Mr. O'NEILL: Now I'm a freelance writer. I write for some horse publications and an ad agency that markets stallions. But for the previous five years I worked at a major stallion farm in Lexington, Kentucky.
PESCA: Oh, what did you do there?
Mr. O'NEILL: I was a - I sold stallion seasons, basically.
PESCA: So you were a horse pimp?
Mr. O'NEILL: I've been described as that before, yes.
PESCA: You have no feather in your fedora, but that's what you were. Marty, you're a huge horseracing fan. Your first Belmont was which year?
Mr. M. MEEHAN: 1971.
PESCA: 1971. So that means you saw Secretariat.
Mr. M. MEEHAN: Yes, that was our most memorable Belmont
PESCA: Oh, I'm sure.
Mr. M. MEEHAN: At the time, we were maybe five deep along the fence, the rail, and could only see a small section of the race in front of us. And the crowd behind us was roaring, and we thought it must be a neck-to-neck race. And then Secretariat passed within our foot-wide view, and then we waited and waited and waited for the second horse to come by. And it seemed forever, because he won by such record lengths.
PESCA: It is unbelievable, even to this day, watching the tape of that, where the camera has to - it pauses and then actually pans left to catch another horse. It's amazing.
Mr. M. MEEHAN: Yes, and I brought my girlfriend at the time to the track, Anne, and...
PESCA: Well, if you mention her by name...
Mr. M. MEEHAN: She became my wife.
PESCA: Yeah, I would figure your current wife wouldn't like you talking about an old girlfriend, Anne.
Mr. M. MEEHAN: It was memorable for many reasons.
PESCA: So you grew up spoiled, because Secretariat in '73, Seattle Slew and Affirmed.
Mr. M. MEEHAN: Yes.
PESCA: And then nothing.
Mr. M. MEEHAN: For a long time, a drought.
PESCA: Does that surprise you? I mean, you had started going, you know, pretty early. You saw a bunch of winners. If I told you in the late '70s, you're not going to see one for, you know, 30 years, would you have believed it?
Mr. M. MEEHAN: No, and of course, we thought we were the factor in the increase in the number of Triple Crown winners. But we also had mixed feelings about it, because we also liked the Belmont when it's not that crowded. PESCA: Yeah.
Mr. M. MEEHAN: And a little bit more freedom. But certainly, there's a lot more excitement when there's a Triple Crown possibility.
PESCA: Kevin, you were born in '81. You've been cheated of a Triple Crown throughout your entire life.
Mr. K. MEEHAN: Yeah, really hoping for Saturday to finally happen.
PESCA: You want Big Brown to do it?
Mr. K. MEEHAN: Yeah. I thought Smarty Jones would happen a couple of years ago, but...
PESCA: And so, if it happens, will there be - well, I'm not going to say mixed emotions. But there's been some talk among people who follow horses that Big Brown - obviously, they want to see a Triple Crown but, you know, his trainer has this checkered past and he is on steroids. Does that take away from what's at stake to any of you guys? Is he not the, you know, feel-good story of Smarty Jones, the little horse that could?
Mr. O'NEILL: Well, for me, it's all about that moment, at - being at the races.
Mr. K. MEEHAN: Yes.
Mr. O'NEILL: And I think it would be extremely profound, I think, to see this actually happen. And you know, as we've talked, we've sort of hoped for this quite a bit over the last 30 years, and as Kevin mentioned, you know, more, especially in the past decade. We've been teased quite a bit. So I think if this were to actually happen, I think just that moment would just sort of overshadow any of the backstory.
PESCA: How much does this allow - you said it's about the friendships and the - do people come out of the blue that you haven't seen for 15 years, or stuff like that, when they hear you're having a party, Marty?
Mr. M. MEEHAN: We have about 50 people at the party, and we'd probably like to invite 300, and 500 would like to come. So we do sort of specialize our invitations a little bit, simply because we want to keep it personal and go back to the roots. It's childhood friends that we want to keep and continue with friendships.
PESCA: I've always wanted to try to start a tradition. I don't know how to do to it. What are the most important steps in starting something that becomes a tradition?
Mr. K. MEEHAN: I guess you have to have your roots back and some stability in terms of - I lived in the same neighborhood for all those years. I - these are students that I went to school with in kindergarten, and I guess it's also the motivation and value that you place upon your friends. And I knew that these were people I wanted to keep in contact with for the rest of my life. Belmont seemed like a good opportunity to ensure that that would happen.
PESCA: Is it a lot more planning than I would even expect to throw one big party for...
Mr. K. MEEHAN: Certainly my wife works very hard in the weeks ahead of time to prepare everything, from the food and drinks and whatnot. A lot of work goes into it, but at the same time, we're not into the fanciness of it. So we don't have a limo to the track. We don't have exotic kinds of things. It's the basics. It's Spiedies from upstate Binghamton and hamburgers and beer and margaritas and good friends.
PESCA: All right, well, thanks. I want to thank the two members of the Meehan family and their friend Matt O'Neil for coming in. The family is from Bayshore, Long Island. Matt O'Neil covers horseracing as a freelance writer. Enjoy the weekend, guys.
Mr. K. MEEHAN: Thanks a lot.
Mr. O'NEIL: Thanks a lot.
PESCA: All right. Thank you.
Mr. M. MEEHAN: Thank you.
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