June 09, 2012
BELMONT, N.Y. — The story here was the non-story with I'll Have Another's bid at Triple Crown history scratched a day before his shot at history. On Friday afternoon, owner Paul Reddam and trainer Doug O'Neill announced that the horse, who won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, would be unable to race due to tendonitis.
The crowd was still large, the announced attendance of 85,811 representing a significant upgrade over the past three years of Belmont attendance, but there was a clear malaise that hung over Belmont Park. Overcast with slight drizzle typified both the weather and the mood of the fans — many of whom almost seemed a tad bit ambivalent about it all.
In 2008, over 94,000 fans turned out to Belmont Park to see Big Brown take a shot at history. His last place finish deflated the crowd as the they left the track in droves after the race. In much the same way, fans seemed to drag themselves to today's field of races to watch what for many was a letdown before the call to the post. There was the specter of deflation, even before the first races of the day left the gate at 11:35 A.M.
"It's unfortunate, I wanted to see him run. This is my first horse race and I wanted to see history and I was hoping that I'll Have Another would win," said Bill Pelegrino of West Islip, N.Y.
"I was hoping history would be made today, but it won't be."
Pellegrino, who attended Saturday's Belmont Stakes with his friend Kevin Sposito, said that despite the disappointment, he is tuned into horse racing a little more now. A couple weeks ago, he began paying attention to the race and despite the news on Friday, he still wanted to come out and attend the event. He said he would be back again.
Neither Pellegrino nor Sposito, both of whom bought general admission entrance tickets on Saturday morning, said that they thought for a moment about not attending the race. By the time that the news of I'll Have Another's injury broke on Friday afternoon, a number of fans had already invested their emotions into attending the track on Saturday.
In a similar position was Shaun Gallagher of Dunellen, N.J., who traveled into New York City with a group of friends to see the race. The big draw originally for Gallagher was the shot at the Triple Crown but he said that despite I'll Have Another's late scratch, he still wanted to experience the biggest day of racing in the area.
The buildup to the race and the horse's shot at the first Triple Crown in 34 years intrigued him.
"I wanted to see the Triple Crown happen and see it live and say that I was there," Gallagher said.
"But even with everything that happened yesterday I wanted to come out here. I watched ESPN and the news all week and kept hearing about the race, about the Triple Crown. I thought it'd be a good way to see history. Not anymore."
Those that came, obviously, chose to have a good time despite the deflation and frustration over the horse's injury. There was no joy in Elmont on Saturday as, at every turn, reminders of what could have been painfully reminded all present of what was.
Signs dotted the trail line into New York's Penn Station and the Long Island Rail Road, advertising special trains to take fans into the day at the races to see Triple Crown history. The racing television network, TVG, printed out thousands of signs featuring I'll Have Another and vendors sold memorabilia at cut rate prices outside the track, hyping the now defunct Triple Crown.
A ticket scalper outside Belmont Park, who only identified himself as "Tommy" was disgusted.
"I'm left with all these tickets, dozens of them, they're now not worth the paper they're printed on," Tommy said. "Tickets that could have gone for $300 or $400 with that horse in it now are going for face value if I can get that. I'm getting cleaned out right now."
The sport needed I'll Have Another to have this big moment, with attendance and wagering consistently down nationally over the past decade. The impact of a Triple Crown race is immense on the sport and can be likened to the impact of the Olympics on the NHL or the World Cup on MLS — there is a trickledown effect and overall awareness of the sport that comes from those grand stages.
A Triple Crown win by I'll Have Another would have not only grabbed headlines but would have boosted the gate at the Haskell at Monmouth Park and the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, races the horse likely would have entered.
For those like Alexandra J. Cacioppo, who took the train in from New Jersey for the race, the day was one still worth embracing.
"I've never been here but my grandfather worked here at Belmont Park for 35 years. I came here because it was supposed to be a Triple Crown and my grandfather used to work here, so it is a real experience for me," Cacioppo said.
"I knew all about the Triple Crown because of my family history and because of the news of the past few weeks. I shed a tear at the news yesterday, it was so sad but I said I wasn't going to let this ruin my day. And I won't."