With no crown, Belmont buzz is muted
No Triple try, not much buzz for the Belmont Stakes.
With I'll Have Another retired with a tendon injury, and no Triple Crown on the line when the field of 11 3-year-olds line up for the 144th running of the Belmont, there wasn't much excitement among fans entering the huge racetrack hours before the race.
The stunning development Friday drained all the anticipation out of what could have been an historic day in thoroughbred racing. A crowd of 100,000 was expected, but that figure could drop significantly. NBC, which is broadcasting the event, has had to make major changes in its coverage, and New York Racing Association officials were hoping for the best despite the obvious drop in interest.
The weather could be factor, too. The forecast for the 6:40 p.m. post time is calling for a 30 percent to 40 percent chance of rain with temperatures in the high 70s.
''The sentiment around here is disappointment,'' said Ash Solanki, who arrived at Belmont Park with several friends Saturday morning. ''We all wanted to see history, and a lot of people were thinking he had a really good chance. It's the Belmont, so it will still be exciting.''
I'll Have Another won't be running in the Belmont, and now he also won't be walking with the field in the post parade before the race. NYRA officials changed course Saturday, announcing that the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner will instead be led to the winner's circle before the race for a retirement ceremony.
''We felt that this would be a fitting ceremonial retirement for an incredible racehorse,'' I'll Have Another's trainer Doug O'Neill said. ''There are many fans who traveled from near and far to see I'll Have Another today, and we wanted to give them a chance to help us send him off to retirement.''
I'll Have Another was back in the barn he stayed in at the track before being moved - along with the other Belmont horses — on Wednesday into a detention barn ordered by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board for safety and security reasons.
There were no traffic issues near the track, as there have been for Triple tries, and yellow school buses used to shuttle fans from parking lots to the grandstand were all but empty early in the day.
The last time a Triple Crown was on the line was 2008, when a crowd of 94,476 watched Big Brown's failed attempt. Last year, without a Triple at stake, 55,779 showed up for Ruler on Ice's win at odds of 24-1.
In the three weeks since I'll Have Another won the Preakness to set the stage for a 12th Triple try since Affirmed was the last to succeed in 1978, NYRA said all clubhouse and grandstand seats had been sold — about 21,000. Also, 1,278 boxes (four to six people) were sold and all the dining areas were booked. In addition, about 5,000 general admission tickets were sold online.
''We have a very nice crowd at Belmont Park, and fans are enthused for a great day of racing,'' NYRA's director of communications Dan Silver said. ''Although there isn't a Triple Crown possibility, there is a great atmosphere at the track. We credentialed more than 1,000 media for the day and have had very few cancelations.''
Mario Gutierrez, the young jockey of I'll Have Another, will be riding three horses on the Belmont undercard.
''Everyone wanted to come and see my horse and we were excited for today,'' he said. ''Everything happens for a reason. We're not competing in the race anymore, but it's my pleasure to be here.''
Peter Rotondo, an avid racing fan, stood outside the entrance to the track, Daily Racing Form in one hand, a pen in the other.
''We're waiting 34 years for a Triple Crown, and sure this is disappointing. This a disappointment for a lot of fans, but it's still the Belmont Stakes. And the race is going to be great.''
Just not as great as it could have been.