Compared to the last few years, things are much calmer at Belmont Park the morning of the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
For the first time in four years, there is not a horse going for the Triple Crown. Though both the winners of the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness (gr. I) -- Giacomo and Afleet Alex, respectively -- are in the field, there is not much excitement in the air.
Things were quiet on the backside the morning of the race, and considerably less traffic was flowing into the track. But New York Racing Association officials were still predicting a crowd in the neighborhood of 75,000.
The cost of admission for the grandstand and clubhouse and enforcement of an alcohol policy may also work against Belmont in terms of attendance. The grandstand and clubhouse admission fees were raised from $2 and $5 to $10 and $20, respectively. Also, because of some altercations last year in the picnic area, police asked that a policy be put in place this year forbidding patrons from bringing alcoholic beverages into the track.
The largest three crowds in Belmont history have been on Belmont day the last three years, capped by the 120,139 that saw Birdstone spoil Smarty Jones' bid a year ago. The attendance was 101,864 in 2003 (Empire Maker won; Funny Cide was third) and 103,222 in 2002 (Sarava won; War Emblem was eighth).
All eyes are focused on Afleet Alex, who ran a solid third in the Derby and then survived a scary bumping incident to win the Preakness.
All has not exactly been smooth with Afleet Alex since the Preakness. He did not ship to Belmont as originally planned because of a suspected case of strangles at the New York track that proved negative. Then, he changed barns two days before the race because his trainer, Tim Ritchey, was unhappy that Belmont opponent Nolan's Cat was stabled in the same barn.
Belmont morning saw partly cloudy skies and weather forecasters were predicting a high in the low 80s and a 30% chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon.
There was only about $30,000 bet in the advance Belmont pool on-track on Friday, and most of it was on Afleet Alex. He was the 3-5 favorite when the windows closed Friday.