ELMONT, N.Y. — It may have been disappointment for I'll Have Another, tendonitis in his left leg causing the horse to be pulled the day before Saturday's Belmont Stakes, but the racing industry as a whole benefitted from the build-up to the day. Even as tendonitis derailed a shot at history and the Triple Crown, it was a record day at the 107-year old racetrack and the New York Racing Association (NYRA).
The announced crowd of 85,811 saw Union Rags make a late push past Paynter to win the stakes race and the attendance represents the largest ever turnout at the Belmont Park for a non-Triple Crown race. The attendance on Saturday was 30,032 more spectators than attended the Belmont Stakes last year and a near 90 percent increase over the 2010 attendance.
"What a great day of racing with five tremendous graded stakes, including the ultimate test of the champion," said Ellen McClain, President and COO of NYRA. "Congratulations to Phyllis Wyeth, Michael Matz, and John Velasquez on a thrilling victory by Union Rags."
It was a victory for the racetrack, even as Friday's announcement that the favorite and the Triple Crown hopeful had been scratched. As good as the attendance was - estimates had the race crowd well over 100,000 had I'll Have Another run - there was a sense of disappointment about the day with a historic moment now out of grasp for another year.
Horse racing has not seen a Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.
Three of the last four races with a Triple Crown on the line have drawn crowds over 100,000, with only Big Brown in 2008 attracting a lesser number. Saturday's numbers were clearly lifted by the potential for a Triple Crown, with reserved tickets selling out less than five minutes after going on sale to the public in late May.
NYRA announced on Friday after I'll Have Another's withdrawal that advanced wagering involving the horse was refundable but that ticket sales were final. Nonetheless, it was a record day at the window as well, with the on-track handle of $13,777,920 representing the second largest haul in Belmont Stakes history.
The handle was 30 percent more than the previous non-Triple Crown record handle of $10,581,093, set in 2001.
NBC also benefitted from the nearly three weeks of hype about the race, finishing another season of Triple Crown coverage in outstanding fashion. The network had a 5.4 overnight rating and a 13 share, up 13 percent over last year and up 74 percent over ABC's coverage in 2010.