While track officials are hoping for a record crowd for Saturday's Belmont Stakes (gr. I) to watch Sackatoga Stable's Funny Cide bid for the Triple Crown, they have already set a record...for press credentials.
More than 1,000 credentials have been given out by the New York Racing Association, and there is still a few days before the race. Those 1,000 credentials do not include an additional 150 alloted for NBC, the network that will televise the race Saturday afternoon.
"We're not done," said Glen Mathes, NYRA's director of communications. "Last year we had 1,040-1,050 and that included NBC. It's been crazy. There has been more local coverage, with Funny Cide being a New York horse, and we've had more requests from around the state. We've had some requests from places that would not usually be here. There is significantly more tv coverage."
The story of the Sackatoga Stable and its ownership group from Sackets Harbor, N.Y. and connections to Saratoga Springs, N.Y. has captured the national sporting spotlight for the weekend.
Nine television cameras were focused on Funny Cide's trainer Barclay Tagg and his assistant Robin Smullen at a Tuesday morning press conference. "It's the whole story; it's not just the horse," Smullen said. "The whole story is why America loves this horse."
Tagg has often been at odds with the media and access to his budding superstar horse. "You can't drag a horse out in front of all this commotion day in and day out and not take something out of him. It's my job to protect him, get him comfortable, and get him to the race," Tagg said.
One of the cameras focused on Tagg belonged to the Newshour with Jim Lehrer, the PBS program that will feature Funny Cide Friday evening. Reporter Betty Ann Bowser is covering the story for the national nightly news show. The segment is planned to be about eight minutes long.
"We do stories on tax cuts, the war in Iraq, and we have policy wonks," Bowser said. "We don't do things that are this fun. This horse -- this story -- the state of New York has had so much bad luck of late. People want a fun story. Funny Cide has captured the imagination of the public. These guys (Sackatoga Stable) are just amazing."