06/08/2011 2:29PM

Belmont Stakes: NYRA hopeful crowd will exceed 60,000

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ELMONT, N.Y. – Despite the fact there is no Triple Crown on the line, New York Racing Association officials are hopeful Saturday’s Belmont Stakes can draw a crowd of between 60,000 and 65,000 fans to Belmont Park.

This year’s Belmont Stakes does feature a showdown between Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom and Preakness winner Shackleford, the first time since 2005 that the winners of the first two legs of the Triple Crown have met in the Belmont. That day, when Preakness winner Afleet Alex defeated Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo, a crowd of 62,274 attended the races. Last year, when there was neither the Derby winner nor the Preakness winner in the Belmont, only 45,243 came out to witness Drosselmeyer's win.

BELMONT STAKES: Contender profiles, Watchmaker's odds »

Charles Hayward, NYRA’s president and chief executive officer, said Wednesday he is hopeful that Saturday’s race could draw a crowd similar to 2005. He noted that weather could be a factor – the forecast calls for a high of 72 degrees and a 50 percent chance of showers – as well as the fact this is the first Belmont run since the closure of New York City Off-Track Betting Corp.

“I think we got a more dynamic race than we had in 2005 which was the last time we had the Derby and Preakness winners so I think that’s going to bring people out,’’ Hayward said. “I still think there’s 3,000 to 5,000 people that are going to come out as a result of the closure of New York City OTB.’’

The 12-horse field in the Belmont consists of eight horses who competed in the Kentucky Derby, including, for the first time, the top seven finishers.

“I think it’s remarkable and it also shows you how competitive this group of 3-year-olds are that eight of the connections would think it’s worthwhile taking a shot, particularly at a mile and a half,’’ Hayward said. “I think that tells us we’re going to have a very competitive race.’’

ULTIMATE BELMONT STAKES GUIDE: DRF picks, past performances, contender profiles »