06/11/2012 2:13PM

Belmont Stakes Day handle and television ratings soar

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Tom Keyser
Union Rags and the horses he defeated in the Belmont Stakes attracted more that $56 million in betting on the race.

Business figures for Saturday’s Belmont Stakes posted across-the-board gains as the race reaped the rewards of nearly three weeks of speculation over whether I’ll Have Another could win the Triple Crown.

Though I’ll Have Another scratched from the race on Friday with a minor injury, the residual impacts of his aborted attempt led to substantial gains in attendance at Belmont on Saturday, accounting for the largest non-Triple Crown crowd in the race’s history. Ontrack handle, all-sources handle on the 13-race Belmont card, and television ratings also jumped significantly compared with last year.

"There was a tremendous amount of buzz leading into the race, and that amount of buzz, that amount of attention, probably accounted for a nice bump," said Adam Freifeld, a spokesman for NBC, which broadcast the Belmont and the other two races of the Triple Crown.

Business figures for all three Triple Crown races were up this year, despite high-profile attacks on racing this winter and spring from many of the sport’s critics and lingering concern over the public’s perception of a sport that has suffered massive losses in business over the past four years.

On Saturday, those concerns seemed to be of little import. The New York Racing Association, Belmont’s operator, reported attendance of 85,811, a 53.8 percent gain over the crowd last year and the largest crowd to attend the race when a Triple Crown was not on the line. The weather on Saturday was mild, with skies that periodically threatened rain.

In the weeks leading up to the Belmont, NYRA had been planning for a crowd in excess of 100,000, which has been typical in the modern era for when a Triple Crown is on the line. After I’ll Have Another’s scratch on Friday, those hopes were dashed, and the size of the crowd on Saturday was a pleasant surprise for a sport that has seemed to be on the ropes.

The all-time attendance record for the Belmont was set in 2004, when 120,139 people showed up to see if Smarty Jones could win the Triple Crown. The previous attendance record for a non-Triple Crown Belmont was set in 2001, when 73,857 was reported. Attendance last year was 55,779.

Including wagering from Aqueduct, the Queens racetrack that is also operated by NYRA, ontrack handle was $13.8 million, the second-highest ontrack handle for the Belmont Stakes behind only the 2004 figure of $14.7 million. The ontrack figure was up 36.4 percent compared with the same figure last year, which also included betting numbers from Aqueduct.

All-sources handle on the 13-race card was $96.6 million, according to NYRA, an 18.8 percent gain over the 13-race Belmont Stakes card last year. This year, 126 horses ran in the 13 races, compared with 125 horses last year.

According to the chart of the race, handle on the Belmont Stakes itself was $56.1 million, a gain of 13.1 percent over the amount bet last year, when handle was $49.6 million.

The overnight rating for the last 45 minutes of the Belmont Stakes broadcast on NBC was a 5.4, up 13 percent over the rating last year, according to the network. Share was a 13, up 18.2 percent compared with the share for last year, the network said.

According to NBC, the 5.4 overnight rating was the highest for a non-Triple Crown Belmont broadcast since 2005. Ratings are generally far higher for the Belmont when a Triple Crown is on the line. In 2008, when Big Brown was attempting to win the Triple Crown, the rating was a 9.5, with a 21 share.