With a positive forecast and unprecedented interest in Smarty Jones' Visa Triple Crown Challenge bid in Saturday's Belmont Stakes (gr. I), officials at the New York Racing Association are bracing for the biggest day in track history.
NYRA senior vice president Bill Nader said the track has no way of anticipating how many people will show up Saturday, but that indications are all previous attendance and wagering records for both Belmont and New York State will be shattered.
The existing record attendance of 103,222 for Belmont was set in 2002 when Sarava posted a 70-1 upset in the Belmont, with favored War Emblem eighth.
Unlike 2003, when Belmont's all-time second-highest 101,864 fans braved inclement weather to watch Funny Cide's unsuccessful Triple Crown attempt, those planning to go to Belmont Park Saturday are expected to be treated to more favorable weather than last year. According to theweatherhcannel.com, there is only a 20% chance of precipitation, with cloudy skies and a high temperature of 69 degrees. The forecast low is 58 degrees.
"To have an undefeated horse who has overcome adversity and who even the best of skeptics agree is a great horse going for a Triple Crown and may become the all-time leading earner, people are coming to this Belmont with greater anticipation than ever," Nader said. "Measuring the interest in Smarty Jones, the story line, and the media exposure, we expect the biggest day in Belmont history, as measured by attendance, on-track wagering, and simulcast wagering. But we don't know what to expect. It's hard. But in terms of planning, we are going all out."
And NYRA is prepared.
To take wagers and feed the onslaught of fans expected Saturday, Nader said Belmont Park has brought in more than 1,000 pari-mutuel clerks and more than 1,000 food service personnel, the highest ever for a NYRA race day.
Noting that approximately 1,400 media credentials, including those for the NBC network, have been issued, Nader said, "This is the biggest box office draw in New York in a long time."
Not only does Nader expect the Belmont handle record of $95.4-million set in 2002 to be broken, but he made a bold prediction that the amount of money bet on Smarty Jones will be the largest ever wagered on a single horse in history.
Nader said the large crowds that have shown up for the recent run of horses attempting to sew up the Triple Crown by winning the Belmont is a positive sign of the health of horse racing as a sport.
"This shows that horse racing is very much alive," Nader said. "Definitely on June 5, 2004, no sport will be bigger than Thoroughbred racing."