Two down, one to go. When I’ll Have Another caught Bodemeister again at the end of the Preakness Stakes, it catapulted him from being just another Kentucky Derby winner to being a potential Triple Crown winner. Mind you, no horse has won the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978, although 11 have tried since then; the last was Big Brown in 2008 who failed miserably in his attempt at glory.
Pimlico also duplicated Churchill Downs’ performance with a new attendance record – 121,309 people jammed sun-splashed Pimlico on Preakness day, many in the entertainment-filled infield who probably never saw a race horse. All sources handle increased from last year to almost $80.5 million, but was only sixth highest in Preakness history – people were there to enjoy the event perhaps more than to make their bets.
Will the crowd at Belmont complete a record Triple Crown year? Belmont Park’s attendance mark of 120,139 was set in 2004 when Smarty Jones was going for the sweep – I was there and the place was rocking! It’s hard to imagine squeezing any more bodies into the facility. Only two other days have ever brought more than 100,000 people to the track – the 2002 and 2003 Triple Crown attempts by War Emblem and Funny Cide, respectively. Big Brown, a horse with perhaps more credentials than those two but one swirled in controversy because of his outspoken trainer, only attracted 94,476 in 2008. Weather was probably a contributing factor – it was a miserably hot day not exactly fit for man or beast.
Belmont Stakes day is different from the big days at Churchill Downs and Pimlico. There is no infield party, no feeling that it is a “must-see” event in one’s lifetime. A typical crowd when there's no Triple Crown on the line runs around 50,000. Belmont seems more stately, more serene, although the New York Racing Association does plan events for fans on its spacious grounds. And if there IS a Triple Crown winner this year, that memory will never fade from the minds of those who can say “I was there.”