06/09/2008 12:00AM

Belmont Day numbers up from '07


The prospect of a Triple Crown on Saturday once again resulted in huge increases in business for Belmont Park compared with the previous year, but the numbers posted for Big Brown's failed attempt were nowhere near the last Triple Crown bid in 2004.

Attendance on a warm and muggy Saturday was 94,476, a 101.8 percent increase over the crowd last year, when a Triple Crown was not on the line. The attendance figure, however, was more than 25,000 short of the record posted in 2004 for Smarty Jones's failed bid, when a crowd of 120,139 showed up under cloudy skies.

All-sources handle was also up markedly from last year, with total wagering on the 13-race card on Saturday at $99,342,426, a 32.6 percent increase over last year's total of $74,921,241. But the all-sources handle figure this year was more than $15 million short of the 2004 record, $114,968,346.

Television ratings also showed a similar pattern. The overnight rating for the 6:15 p.m.-7:15 p.m. "race portion" of ABC's 2-hour-and-15-minute broadcast on Saturday was a 10.5, up 169 percent compared with the 3.9 rating posted last year, according to the network. The overnight rating in 2004 for the same segment was a 15.6, with a 31 share.

The gains on a year-to-year comparison illustrate the significant impact that a Triple Crown bid has on the general public. But the decline when measured against the last Triple Crown bid also indicates that the popularity of Big Brown did not reach the level of Smarty Jones.

When measured against the 2003 Triple Crown bid of the New York-bred gelding Funny Cide, the attendance and the handle figures were a mixed bag. That year, attendance was 101,864 in miserable weather, significantly higher than this year considering the conditions, but the handle was $92,584,249, well short of the all-sources wagering total this year.

According to the chart of the race, all-sources handle on the nine-horse Belmont Stakes, including all multi-race wagers that ended with the race, was $56,837,288. The total was a 50.4 percent gain on last year's race handle of $37,786,382 for a seven-horse field. The record for the race was set in 2004, with $63,671,706 in wagers.

The ontrack crowd had to deal with heat that many customers described as sweltering, along with a drop in water pressure at the facility that occurred at approximately 2:30 p.m. Eastern and plagued the bathrooms for the rest of the card. New York Racing Association officials said on Monday that that they were scheduled to meet with officials of the local water utility on Tuesday morning to determine why the drop in pressure occurred, but they also said that the water problems did not result in any change in track maintenance procedures.

"The track maintenance was not affected in any way by water shortage," Belmont spokesman John Lee said, noting that the track superintendent, John Passero, "had his water trucks filled up before the problem cropped up, and he didn't have to change any of the things he normally does."

Ontrack betting on Saturday on the 13-race card was $13,233,071, a 49.6 percent increase over last year's total of $8,843,720. Ontrack handle in 2004 was $14,461,402. The per-capita wagering figures for the 2008 card exceeded that of the 2004 card, at $140 this year compared with $120 when Smarty Jones ran.

Handle in the $1-million guaranteed pick six pool was $1,869,152, according to the chart. No one correctly selected all six winners, in large part due to Da' Tara's longshot victory in the Belmont, and a carryover of $1,186,626 is being offered on Belmont's Wednesday card. A pick four ending with the Belmont that was also guaranteed for $1 million attracted $1,850,271 in bets.

A daily double linking Friday's Brooklyn Handicap with the Belmont Stakes drew $334,203. The linking of races on two different race days is becoming increasingly popular for large racing events.