06/06/2004 11:00PM

Smarty puts Belmont's numbers through roof


Debates about the quality of Smarty Jones's second-place finish in Saturday's Belmont Stakes will rage well into the future. The debate over his immediate impact on racing is already settled.

Several business records were set on Belmont Stakes Day, an indicator of Smarty Jones's high popularity. His appearance in the Belmont drove handle and attendance figures to records, enriched his jockey with the most lucrative advertising deal that any rider has ever signed, resulted in the best television ratings for the Belmont since the 1970's, and spurred on the most frenetic run on Thoroughbred racing merchandise in history.

Smarty Jones was, in one word, boffo.

Under cloudy skies that threatened rain, attendance at Belmont on Saturday was a record 120,139, driven in part by thousands of Philadelphians who made the trip from Smarty Jones's home city. The previous Belmont record was 103,222, set in 2002 under nearly perfect weather conditions.

Handle on the Belmont Stakes was a record $63,671,706, beating the 2002 mark of $54,503,406 by a wide margin. Thousands of people at Belmont and across the country made token $2 win bets on Smarty Jones to keep as souvenirs or offer for sale on auction sites. Smarty Jones's .35-1 odds were the lowest price in the Belmont since Spectacular Bid went off at .30-1 in 1979.

The evidence that souvenir money dominated the win pool can be found in the place and show prices on Smarty Jones. Bettors who wagered on Smarty Jones to place received $3.30, a higher return than the $2.70 he would have paid to win. The show price was $2.60.

According to officials at the New York Racing Association, the amount of money bet on Smarty Jones was the most money bet on a horse in Thoroughbred racing history. Though NYRA officials were unable to break out on Monday how much exactly was wagered on Smarty Jones in the $23,355,741 win-place-show pool, they said that the sum was nearly $15 million.

All-sources handle on Belmont's 13-race card on Saturday was an all-time record for the track as well. The figure, $114,887,594, was an 11.3 percent increase over the previous record, set in 2001 for the Breeders' Cup card. The previous Belmont Stakes card record of $95,443,037 was set in 2002.

Overnight ratings and share figures, both nationally and in selected markets, were up substantially for NBC-TV's 105-minute broadcast. The 13.4 national overnight rating was a 29 percent gain over 2003, when Funny Cide was the darling of the Triple Crown, and 66.3 percent higher than this year's Derby rating. The 27 share meant that one in four people watching television at the time of the broadcast were watching NBC's Belmont telecast.

During the race segment of the broadcast, from 6:15 to 7:15 p.m., the overnight rating was 15.6 with a 31 share. The race-segment rating was a 32 percent gain over last year's race segment.

In Smarty Jones's home base of Philadelphia, the rating was a 28.1 with a 46 share. In Louisville, home of the Kentucky Derby, the rating was a 24.3 with a 47 share. In New York, the rating was a 20.7 with a 37 share.

At stands throughout Belmont's jam-packed and beer-soaked grandstand on Saturday, hats and T-shirts bearing Smarty Jones's name were sold out by 9 a.m., according to the staff at the booths. The gates at Belmont opened at 8:30 a.m.

Keith Chamblin, the vice president of marketing for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said on Monday that the NTRA has sold $450,000 worth of Smarty Jones merchandise so far through the association's licensing deal with the owners of the colt, Roy and Patricia Chapman. The numbers are larger than the totals for all other horse merchandise sold through the NTRA since the association was founded in 1997, Chamblin said, and has outsold Seabiscuit merchandise by a 2-1 margin.

The opportunities filtered down to Stewart Elliott, Smarty Jones's jockey, as well. Just before the Belmont, Elliott signed a $250,000 deal with the directory-assistance company Infone to wear advertising for the company during the Belmont Stakes, according to the broker of the deal, Terri Marconi-Kirkland of Symbolic Marketing Group. The deal was the most lucrative that any jockey has ever signed to advertise for a company, by far. The most any jockey had ever received in a one-race advertising deal prior to the Infone agreement is believed to be $30,000.

The unprecedented level of attention on Smarty Jones was the result of several factors, including his perfect record going into the Belmont, the everyman image of his connections, and the momentum built up over the past eight years in the pursuit of the Triple Crown. But in light of Smarty Jones's defeat, which in one section of the grandstand on Saturday was greeted with a cacophony of boos and dozens of beers tossed at television screens in disgust, questions will remain on whether the Smarty Jones phenomenon has legs.

The Chapmans' son, Michael Chapman, who negotiated the licensing deals for Smarty Jones, said on Monday that several large corporations are still expressing interest in using Smarty Jones's image for advertising campaigns. Still, it is likely that nothing will match the pre-Belmont excitement.

"There was a bidding war going on up until 3 [p.m.] on Saturday," Chapman said. "I finally said, 'Guys, I'm turning the phone off. If you want to get ahold of me, e-mail me and we'll talk about it after the Belmont.' It was getting out of control."