Prerna Chaudhary

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Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, And Stylish Hats, Return This Weekend

L. to R.: American Pharough won the Triple Crown in 2015, and fashion designer Christine A. Moore and Kimberly Distefano with her fancy hats on race day.

The Belmont Stakes Racing Festival returns Saturday, but this is more than just one of horse racing’s largest annual events in the nation.

It is also about community events leading up to the Belmont Stakes, like the Cancer Survivor’s Day Walk, the Jockey Colony’s annual visit to the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island, as well as entertainment afterward, such as the concert by hip hop artist Flo Rida and a trackside performance from the Tony-winning hit musical Rock of Ages. And it’s also about the hats.

“There’s not just a competition for the races, it’s also who is the best dressed,” says Christine A. Moore, a New York City-based designer whose pop-up shop selling elaborate hats at the Garden City Hotel during the Belmont Stakes every year, has become a staple.

Although there is no Triple Crown contender this year since Country House won the Kentucky Derby and War of Will won the Preakness, there is excitement and pageantry surrounding Belmont’s largest annual race nonetheless.

The three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival kicks off Friday and includes a performance by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. It includes a full day of races Saturday. And festivities continue Sunday at the park.

As for the fashion, Moore says her hats are typically worn to protect racing fans from the sun, as well as to look stylish. She has also sold her hats at the Kentucky Derby, where fans similarly flaunt fashionable hats for the occasion.

She says that once the women caught onto the horse racing hat fashion, men felt like they had to match their significant other in terms of elegance in appearance, so they too started wearing elaborate hats.

Moore’s pop-up shop is more than just about fashion, and she actually sees it as her “primary job is to entertain the crowd between the races” and “make a fuller experience,” since the day is very long.

Moore says that regardless of whether or not the attendees win money that day, the hat is a reminder of the Belmont Stakes and the good time they had with their friends and family. Some returning customers also told her that they have a collection of her hats — ranging in price from $150 to $1,000 — that they look forward to adding to every year.

Moore makes sure that there is something for everyone. She says, “as long as you know how to dress, you can find something that works.”