Record handle figures and higher television ratings were Belmont Park's rewards the day of its premier event. These were payoffs of clear skies, increased national and local publicity, and a showdown between Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Monarchos and Preakness (gr. I) winner Point Given.Overnight television ratings for NBC's Belmont Stakes (gr. I) telecast jumped 44% to 4.9 and captured 13% of the late afternoon viewing audience June 9 in the country's top 51 media markets. This is the first year of NBC's five-year contract to carry the Triple Crown. Last year, ABC earned a 3.4 overnight rating and a 9% market share for its last broadcast after 14 years of continuous coverage.This year's rating climbed steadily throughout NBC's 5-6:30 p.m. telecast, peaking at 5.8 and a 15% market share when the race aired between 6-6:30 p.m. The overnight rating ties 1992 and 1993 as the second-highest rating for a Belmont without a Triple Crown title at stake. The highest overnight rating in a non-Triple Crown year was a 5.3 earned when Hansel won in 1991. Hansel had won the Preakness that year.Besides the showdown between Monarchos and Point Given, the race was helped by a cliffhanger finish in the French Open women's finals, which preceded the Belmont coverage. American Jennifer Capriati defeated Belgian Kim Clijsters after an exhausting 12-10 tiebreaker.Belmont Day also attracted a record on-track handle of $10,581,093 and a record commingled handle of $68,323,600. The on-track handle increased slightly from the previous record of $10,577,736 set during the 1990 Breeders' Cup. The commingled handle increased 0.6% from the record set during the 1999 Belmont Stakes when Charismatic fell short in his bid for the Triple Crown.The total all-sources handle for the day was $72,760,200, up 34% from last year's all-source handle of $54,198,334. On-track wagering on the Belmont Stakes alone was $2,707,574, compared with slightly more than $2 million last year. The commingled handle on the race reached $31,890,717 and the all-source handle, including separate pools, was $34,959,635.The handle was undeniably helped by a 12th race added to the card, but also by the fourth-largest crowd in Belmont Stakes history. The race attracted 73,857 people, which was a 9% larger crowd than attended last year. Belmont's record crowd of 85,818 showed up for the race in 1999. The on-track handle for the race was $2,707,574, or about 35% higher than last year. New York Racing Association officials gave partial credit for the large crowd to substantially increased pre-race coverage by WNBC, the New York NBC affiliate.
WNBC ran stories related to the Belmont Stakes daily beginning June 5, and the day before the race broadcast its Friday "Today in New York" show -- a 5-7 a.m. lead-in to the national "Today" show -- live from the track. "In the past, they would have come out to the post draw and had the weatherman out for the Saturday 'Today in New York,' " said John Lee, broadcasting manager for the New York Racing Association. "This year, they had at least one reporter out here every day the week before and three out here Friday."WNBC participated further by sponsoring its first race on Belmont Day -- a $65,000, one-mile stakes for fillies and mares.NYRA president Terry Meyocks attributed the strong ratings and higher handles to a variety of factors, including good marketing, perfect weather, and some national exposure from "Imus in the Morning" radio star Don Imus, who bet $50,000 on the race on behalf of his children's charity Imus Ranch."We have been working to make this an event and were helped by having a Triple Crown bid for three consecutive years," said Meyocks, referring to 1997-1999. "Well, we've built on that and the people who came during those years had a good time and are coming back."