Updated on 06/09/2014 11:43AM

Belmont handle smashes records


California Chrome may not have brought home a Triple Crown, but he meant record business for Belmont Park on Saturday, with the track easily setting handle records for the race and for its revamped 13-race Belmont Stakes card.

Total handle on the Belmont Stakes was $90.3 million, according to multiple handle sources, 32.7 percent better than the record of $68 million set in 2004, when Smarty Jones failed to take the Triple Crown. Total handle on the entire card was $150.3 million, according to Belmont’s operator, the New York Racing Association, shattering the 2004 full-card record by $39.3 million, a difference of 35 percent.

While the overnight television rating for the Belmont Stakes broadcast on NBC did not approach the rating posted for the 2004 edition of the race – a rating that made the 2004 Belmont the most-watched racing broadcast of the modern era – it was still the second-highest rating all-time for the race, at a 12.9. The overnight rating for the 2004 Belmont broadcast was a 15.9.

NBC said the overnight rating made the broadcast the most-watched sporting event on NBC since the Sochi Winter Olympics. Share, which measures the percentage of televisions in use that were tuned to the broadcast, was a 29.

Attendance on a picture-perfect day was announced by NYRA at 102,199, far short of the record announced in 2004, when NYRA said 120,139 were on hand. However, NYRA chief executive Chris Kay, who took the job last year, hinted several weeks ago that he believed the 2004 figure may have been inflated, and the stands at Belmont Park on Saturday appeared to be at least as full as in Smarty Jones’s year. It was still the third-largest reported crowd in Belmont history, behind 2004 and 2002, another year in which a Triple Crown was on the line.  

Further casting doubt on the 2004 attendance figure, ontrack handle Saturday was $19.1 million, NYRA said, more than $4.5 million more than what the 2004 crowd bet. (NYRA counts money bet at Aqueduct and through its account-wagering service, NYRAOne, in the ontrack figure.)

The ontrack handle number also was easily a record for any race card at Belmont, beating the ontrack handle record set when Belmont hosted the Breeders’ Cup in 2005. Ontrack handle for that Saturday card was $14.7 million. All-sources handle that day was $124 million.

The figures were testament to both the enormous star power of California Chrome and to the impressive lineup of races NYRA put together for the card by moving some of its most attractive stakes – including the Met Mile and Acorn – to Belmont Day. That the records were set at a time when racing handle is on pace to be $11 billion this year – compared to $15.1 billion in 2004 – was all the more impressive.

But there was a cost as well. California Chrome’s dead heat for fourth left many viewers disappointed, the 12th in a string of horses since 1979 to take the Kentucky Derby and Preakness but fall short in the Belmont. The string includes three consecutive failed bids from 1997-99 and from 2002-04, simultaneously displaying how hard the Triple Crown is to win in the modern era and how difficult it is for racing to rely on its often-fleeting racetrack stars. Aside from the disappointment on the racetrack, thousands of patrons were stuck in traffic for hours leaving the track or stranded when the Long Island Rail Road shut down the track’s platform for safety concerns.

For NYRA’s racing operations, there were costs for putting together such a rich card as well. The association has already taken a handle hit on the days when the stakes races moved to the Belmont card were previously run, an opportunity cost that has to be considered when fully evaluating the association’s decision to put so many eggs in one basket. Whether the handle gains on Belmont Day will be enough to offset the losses on the other days is unclear. And if a horse had not shown up with a Triple Crown bid Saturday, the handle numbers would have been far lower. 

But for the day, all the numbers were impressive. Compared to last year, when a Triple Crown was not on the line, handle for the Belmont was up 71.3 percent, with betting on the race exceeding the handle on the entire 13-race card last year. Handle on the full card was up 68 percent compared to 2013.

The 2004 Belmont Stakes Day handle was well above any other Belmont Day, with the Triple Crown bid of Big Brown drawing $100.2 million in total bets and the 2003 run by Funny Cide drawing $93.1 million. Compared to 2008, Saturday’s full-card handle was up 50 percent, and the Saturday total was 61.4 percent better than the 2003 figure.

The card Saturday at Belmont had nine graded stakes, six of them Grade 1’s, with total purses of $8 million, the second-richest card of races on the U.S. calendar this year, behind only the Saturday Breeders’ Cup card. NYRA decided to revamp the card earlier this year, well before California Chrome had even started in the Derby. A total of 132 horses ran in the 13 races this year, compared to 128 last year.

jimf552 More than 1 year ago
Great time and top shelf customer service in second floor clubhouse seats. Waitress service, specialty sandwiches, leather couches and chairs, three piece wedding band, etc. Bet on I-pad all day, no lines for rest rooms. However, $50 parking was poorly managed and made for dangerous exit.
Phil S More than 1 year ago
This was an epic fail. I have been to multiple TC and BC race days, and this was by FAR the worst event I have been to. Every time I left my seat some ticketless jack was in it when I got back, and often it was the ushers themselves. It took me 4 hours to get to MSG after the races in what felt like a remake of the Warriors. For me, I can handle it--my expectations were low having been there before, but this exceeded even the worst expectations. It was chaos. I avoided the tellers and only had to put up with the .10 Superfecta bettors at the machines. I put up with the lines for food and beer (usually about 20-30 minutes for beer) and found a bathroom with no line that I used all day. However, on a day when Horse Racing could have brought in new fans, it took their money and threw them on the heap. People were aggravated beyond belief and everyone talked about how awful it was and how they were never coming back. Meanwhile, NYRA officials are up in their box slapping each other on the backs looking at the handle. We know they didn't make ONE stroll through the grandstand or else they would have been issuing PR damage control. It was really poorly managed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
fantastic race card for belmont day, took guts, congrats to the racing department !!!!
Bob More than 1 year ago
For the fans who were disappointed with the crowding and food issue . Remember you cannot simulate a plane crash.... Belmont draws 2500 people a day approx. If that. Saturday 100,000 more come .. No way you can prepare for that and we knew that walking in . Invite 75 people to your house and see what happens .
Jay More than 1 year ago
LOL. If I invite 75 people to my house, I will prepare for 75 people. NYRA should have been ready for 120,000 or should have put up the "sold out" sign after selling tickets for the number they were prepared for. No, instead they sold as many $10 admissions as they could and to hell with the fan experience.
Phil S More than 1 year ago
Please--talk to Churchill Downs--they do it every year. I never thought I would commend them on anything, but at least they know how to run an event. Belmont didn't even try. This was a money grab and it was obvious.
Phil S More than 1 year ago
How are you comparing this to a plane crash? This was not an unknown event Bob. The NYRA issued a glowing PR that the event was sold out two weeks ago. I think they had a clue that more than 2500 were coming.
David G. More than 1 year ago
Does this explain the cost of parking to be $20?
gallopingtom More than 1 year ago
I thought the prices were awful. Still can't touch Derby day and B.C. Saturday. Great racing for sure. great wagering eggh not so much. Too much Pletcher at BP to get prices. IMHO. Otherwise, a great day to watch great racing.
Matt Romo More than 1 year ago
you're buggin those are great days to wager.there's a lot more dumb money involved. plus g1's offer pretty safe singles in multi race wagers. plus you look at some of those exactas, favorite witha 11-1, or a 20-1 underneath. mike smith had two great priced horses follow for good prices later in the day. the pots were huge, got to take advantage of that.
John Gamble More than 1 year ago
Tremendous card with great horses and betting opportunities in every race. The only racing event in this country that rivals it is the Saturday Breeders Cup racing. Congrats and thanks to NYRA for doing something right for a change.
MKKelly513 More than 1 year ago
The racing was tremendous, even if we got no Triple Crown. Horses, trainers and jockeys did an outstanding job. It was a giant score for the sport of thoroughbred racing. But, the hospitality side of things was only marginally better than 2008 (Big Brown), when I believe even NYRA gave themselves an F. My grade this year would be a D+. Extremely long lines at bathrooms (oh, the port-o-lets out by the playground were way too far away, unless you weren't interested in the racing action). By mid-afternoon, cell phone/internet coverage crashed for everyone I talked to (not enough band-width to handle 102,000+ people for the limited space we were cramped into). So, you couldn't bet by mobile phone and had to use the temp workers who didn't know the difference between a box and a wheel. A trip to the concessionaire for 4 hot dogs and 4 waters, netted me one water after a 30 minute wait (ran out of hot dog buns and I got the last water). Maybe the people with catered food & beverage did better, I don't know. Getting out of the parking lot wasn't too much of a problem, but knowing Belmont, I knew where to go (certainly not out on Hempstead Ave). It's quite obvious that using temp workers and services does not work for a single day's offering. Stay home next year and watch the great racing is my advice.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My miss sophia stopped at top of the stretch in the acorn. Wonder why that happened?
JW More than 1 year ago
What does this have to do with article?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've been there for the just over 100k crowds and the 120k crowd. Mr. Kay was not there, and believe me there were 120k there that day.
gallopingtom More than 1 year ago
I agree Mr Kay should just smile and move on.