Updated on 09/16/2011 7:25AM

NYRA braces for Triple Crown crowd


ELMONT, N.Y. - With the prospect of a Triple Crown looming and with the Belmont Stakes having become more popular in general the last few years, New York Racing Association officials are gearing up for a potential record-setting crowd on June 8, when War Emblem goes for the Triple Crown in the 134th Belmont Stakes.

"The phones were ringing off the wall Saturday night into Sunday," said Terry Meyocks, president and COO of NYRA.

Meyocks said that virtually all of the reserved seats are sold out. However, NYRA is looking into the possibility of adding more bleacher-type seats as it has done for previous Belmonts and for last year's Breeders' Cup.

Meyocks said NYRA is also considering adding more tents in the backyard near the existing Marquis tent, and in the horseman's parking lot where events for the Breeders' Cup were held.

"We're going to do everything we can to make it a success," Meyocks said.

Fans who wish to attend the races without guaranteed seats will be welcome. Grandstand and clubhouse admission will remain $2 and $4, respectively.

"What we always like to say is there's always room at the inn," Meyocks said. "With the backyard and the building itself we're fortunate to have a humongous racetrack.'

Meyocks did emphasize that fans use mass transit to get to Belmont. Officials are currently looking at nearby locations where fans could park and take a shuttle bus to the track.

This will be the fourth time in the last six years that the Triple Crown was on the line entering the Belmont. A record crowd of 85,818 jammed Belmont Park in 1999 and watched Charismatic finish third in the Belmont. Previously, crowds of 70,682 (in 1997) and 80,162 (in 1998) came to watch Silver Charm and Real Quiet attempt to win the Triple Crown but fall short.

Attendance dropped off in 2000 and 2001, primarily because of the lack of a Triple Crown possibility. But the crowds were still decent. In 2000, when neither Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus nor Preakness winner Red Bullet ran in the Belmont, 67,810 showed up to see Commendable win the race. Last year, 73,857 watched Preakness winner Point Given hammer Derby winner Monarchos.

Those crowds compare favorably with the mid-1990's when a Triple Crown was not on the line. In 1995, attendance was an embarrassingly low 37,171. In 1996, it was 40,797.

Due in part to the Belmont Stakes Festival, a series of events involving local communities, the Belmont has become an event that can stand on its own merit. Garden City, an affluent community located near Belmont, is hosting a street festival on June 7, the night before the race. More than 8,000 people attended last year. On June 1, the town of Elmont hosts the Belmont Stakes Festival Children's Olympics.

Of course, in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, there will be new security measures in place. However, Meyocks said many of the same measures were in place last October for the Breeders' Cup, and few complaints were heard.

Met still strong without Congaree

Even thought it appears that Grade 1 winner Congaree will pass Monday's Metropolitan Handicap, the field for the $750,000 race is still coming up extremely strong.

The Grade 1 field is so deep that Aldebaran, one of the few non-graded stakes winners in the field, will vie for favoritism with multiple Grade 1 winner Left Bank. Aldebaran, a son of Mr. Prospector is coming off a second-place finish behind Orientate in the Grade 2 Commonwealth Breeders' Cup Handicap, a race in which he rallied from 14 lengths back to come within 1 1/4 lengths of the front-running Orientate. Jerry Bailey has picked up the mount on Aldebaran for trainer Bobby Frankel.

A host of California-based graded stakes winners is scheduled to ship in for the Met Mile, one of the most prestigious races on the New York calendar. They include D'wildcat, who was placed first by disqualification in the Churchill Downs Handicap; Crafty C.T., winner of the 2001 San Rafael; Grey Memo, winner of the Godolphin Mile; Redattore, upset winner of the San Antonio Handicap; and possibly Swept Overboard, winner of last year's Ancient Title Breeders' Cup Handicap.

Affirmed Success, a multiple Grade 1 winner; Burning Roma, who won the Grade 1 Futurity at Belmont as a 2-year-old; Voodoo; and Wake at Noon complete the list of definite runners. E Dubai is possible.

A maiden in Peter Pan

While Tom Albertrani, an assistant trainer for Godolphin Racing, will be concentrating on preparing Essence of Dubai for the Belmont Stakes, he hopes to get another Godolphin 3-year-old stakes win this weekend.

Ibn Al Haitham, who is still a maiden, will run in the Peter Pan, a nine-furlong race that has served as a stepping-stone to the Belmont Stakes. Ibn Al Haitham, a Great Britain-bred son of Zafonic, has three seconds and a pair of thirds from six career starts. He spent last summer with Eoin Harty in California, where he ran in three maiden races, and finished second to Essence of Dubai in the Grade 2 Norfolk Handicap. He ran in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, finishing ninth.

In his one start this year, Ibn Al Haitham finished third in the UAE Derby at Nad Al Sheba Racecourse in Dubai. Jerry Bailey will ride Ibn Al Haitham Saturday.

"It's a good spot to try him and if we get beat, we can run him in a maiden race later on," Albertrani said. "He's shown enough that - even though he didn't break his maiden - he belongs in that race."

Could a win in the Peter Pan earn Ibn Al Haitham a spot in the Belmont? "Never say never," Albertrani said.

As of Monday, there were only five other definites for the Peter Pan. Fast Decision, the Withers winner, Sunday Break, the Wood Memorial third-place finisher, and Puzzlement, Deputy Dash, and Heir D' Twine. Essayons is possible.