The popularity of Someday Farmês Smarty Jones and his unsuccessful attempt to sweep the Visa Triple Crown Challenge in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) boosted attendance and handle to record levels for the Long Island, N. Y. track and also attracted the largest television audience since Seattle Slewês 1977 Triple Crown.
–He introduced the sport to a whole new audience," said New York Racing Association vice president Bill Nader. –We owe him a great deal of gratitude."
Earlier in the week, the Belmont Day forecast was for partly cloudy conditions and high temperatures in the seventies, prompting NYRA officials to anticipate a record crowd. As part of their preparation, NYRA hired more than 1,000 pari-mutuel clerks and had more than 1,000 food-service workers available race day.
By Thursday, however, the forecast had changed to rain and much cooler temperatures for race day, prompting concerns by NYRA that the day would be a repeat of last year when rain dampened a probable record crowd when New York-bred Funny Cide failed in his attempt to win the Triple Crown.
But the rain held off until after the races were completed and New Yorkers turned out in large numbers to show their support for Smarty.
–Based on the amount wagered on the first two races, it was obvious they were waiting to see what the weather was going to do before committing (to attend the Belmont)," Nader said.
The record crowd of 120,139 wagered a record $14,461,402 on-track, a record for any New York Racing Association track that surpassed the previous record of $13,165,397 set during the 2001 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. The previous Belmont Stakes day record of $12,973,555 was set last year and the previous attendance mark of 103,222 was set in 2002.
Total commingled handle was $110,994,890, easily topping the previous mark of $98,835,163 from the 2001 Breeders' Cup and the Belmont Stakes day record of $90,703,830 that was set in 2002.
Total handle from all sources was also a new record of $114,887,594, smashing the previous record of $103,257,457 from the 2001 Breeders' Cup and the 2002 Belmont Stakes day record of $95,443,037.
On-track handle for the Belmont Stakes was a record $4,331,463 and overall handle on the Belmont Stakes was also set a record at $63,671,706. The previous marks were $3,753,983 and $54,503,406, respectively, both set in 2002.
Birdstone, who defeated Smarty Jones, paid $74 for each $2 to win, keying a new record for Pick 4 wagering in New York with $1,739,609 in a pool that featured a $1 million guarantee.
Because of the various types of wagering pools and different sources of wagers, it would be impossible to know exactly how much was wagered on Smarty Jones to win the Belmont. With many win tickets purchased to be kept as souvenirs if Smarty won the Triple Crown, the colt went off at odds slightly greater than 3-10, lowest for a Belmont favorite since Spectacular Bid in 1979.
–I think it would be fair to say that more was wagered on Smarty Jones in the Belmont than on any other horse in the history of racing," Nader said.
Nader praised the efforts of NYRA personnel in handling Saturdayês record crowd, noting that the only flaws were in areas over which the track has little or no control. Nader said it took a long time for most of the Belmont patrons to exit the track due to the traffic flow on public streets surrounding the track and the lateness of the post time for the final race of the day made it difficult to clean the facility in preparation for Sundayês race card.
–Everything went well," Nader said. –People told me they had never seen so many mutuel clerks."
Smarty Jones proved as popular off-track as he did at Belmont Park, with the NBC telecast drawing a 13.4 overnight rating and a 27 share.
The 13.4 rating/27 market share (from 5:30-7:15 p.m. ET) represents a 29% improvement over last year's 10.4/22, which had been the best Belmont overnight since the advent of people meters in 1987, according to Nielsen Media Research. The race segment (6:15-7:15 p.m. ET) generated a 15.6/31 overnight rating, an improvement of 32% over last year's 11.8/25.
"It was America's love affair with Smarty Jones that got us the highest Belmont rating in 27 years," said Dick Ebersol, chairman NBC Universal Sports & Olympics. "I am incredibly proud of the telecast, but more importantly the opportunity after the race to show what I think was the best display of grace and sportsmanship by both winners and losers that I may have ever seen at a sports event." America could learn a lot about sportsmanship from what happened in the 15 minutes after the race."
The pre-race segment (5:30-6:15 p.m. ET) of the Belmont broadcast generated a 10.4/22, which was 37% better than last year's 7.6/17 from 5:30-6 p.m.
The top-rated individual markets for Saturday's 6:15-7:15 p.m. race segment were: 1) Philadelphia 28.1/46; 2) Louisville 24.3/47; 3) Baltimore 24.1/42; 4) West Palm Beach 23.1/40; 5) Fort Myers 21.1/38; 6) New York 20.7/37; 7) Oklahoma City 20.6/38; 8) Orlando 20.1/37; 9) Pittsburgh 19.9/36; 10) Tampa 19.3/34.
With the elusive Triple Crown going unclaimed for another year, NYRA and NBC officials hope that in 2005 they can make plans to exceed their record day of June 5, 2004 and have another Triple Crown contender.By Ron Mitchell