Leading up to the 137th Preakness Stakes, my initial fear was that the Doug O'Neill-trained I'll Have Another would take the second jewel of the Triple Crown and head towards the Big Apple with a chance to become the 12th member of racing's most exclusive club and the first since 1978.
It's no secret that the New York Racing Association has experienced some real turmoil since former President and CEO Charles Hayward and General Counsel Patrick Kehoe were suspended and fired for their role in the recent NYRA takeout fiasco. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's subsequent warning to strip the NYRA franchise of its power and slots money only exacerbated an already tenuous situation. With this as a backdrop, would 2012 be the best year for such a spotlight to be shone upon Belmont Park?
But when I'll Have Another edged out Bodemeister to take what many believe was the most exciting Preakness since Sunday Silence bested Easy Goer, I knew I had it all wrong. A Triple Crown spotlight will be the best remedy for what ails racing in New York, not only nationally but also for the New York industry. But we can't be spectators waiting for a turn in fortune. Instead, we must use this moment to show just how important horse racing is to the Empire State.
The relevance of the Belmont Stakes, perhaps more than any other major sporting event, is based almost exclusively on what's on the line. Sure, a Carolina Panthers – Jacksonville Jaguars Super Bowl would not be Roger Goodell's dream date, but the stands would still be packed, with TV ratings exceeding any other major event of the sports calendar. But the attendance and viewership of the Belmont Stakes swings wildly, depending almost solely on the potential of a Triple Crown winner.
In those years in which a Triple Crown contender does not make it to New York City, it's easy for those in New York state government to marginalize the impact of horse racing on their bottom line. While the horse industry makes a multi-billion dollar impact responsible for tens of thousands of New York jobs, the diminishing emotional impact of Belmont Park's most famous race in the non-Triple Crown years since 2008 has made Cuomo's maneuvers to marginalize NYRA much easier to sweep under the rug.
But this year's edition on June 9th will be impossible to ignore for everyone from the newest state house intern to the governor himself. The focus of every major news outlet will be on Big Sandy, the considerable history of New York racing and subsequently the millions of dollars that will pour into the state coffers as a result.
Looking at the previous ten Belmont Stakes, the top four attendance and handle numbers came from the four years a Triple Crown was on the line.
Year Attendance Handle
2004 120,139 $110,994,390
2002 103,222 $95,443,037
2003 101,864 $93,115,083
2008 94,476 $100,192,405
2005 62,274 $84,581,949
2006 61,168 $81,347,970
2011 55,779 $81,245,326
2009 52,861 $89,705,885
2007 46,870 $75,587,892
2010 45,243 $74,613,144
In fact, the attendance spread is so significant, the year Smarty Jones narrowly missed the wire against a hard-charging Birdstone nearly doubled the attendance figure of the most heavily attended non-Triple Crown year in 2005 when Afleet Alex won both the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. While handle numbers ultimately drive the racing business, the economic impact of 100,000 – 120,000 people attending a major sporting event is what wakes up the political class.
But we must be proactive and tell our story to Albany.
If you are planning to attend the Belmont this year, send an email to [email protected] and let Gov. Cuomo and his staff know how much money you are planning to spend on your trip to New York City, whether you are coming via subway in Manhattan or an airplane from halfway across the world. Copy [email protected] on this message so we can track the success of the campaign. If you have friends who are attending, please pass this article on and encourage them to take the same action. Nothing speaks to politicians quite like citizen action and the realization of new tax revenue.
New York racing is vital to the health of the Thoroughbred industry in the U.S. While NYRA clearly has a house that needs some cleaning, we must also fight back against those who are currently projecting racing as not much more than a nuisance.
It is up to us to prove our value to Gov. Cuomo. No one else will.
Dear Gov. Cuomo,
I believe the Thoroughbred racing industry is a vital part of what makes the state of New York so special to my family and friends. We are excited about our trip to New York City the week of June 9th to attend the Belmont Stakes and watch I'll Have Another attempt to become the 12th Triple Crown winner and the first since Affirmed in 1978.
My family and I have budgeted $XXXX to spend on hotels, transportation, dining and other events, money we would not be spending in your state otherwise. Please take this into consideration as you make decisions regarding the horse industry in New York.
Your Name Here
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