The Right Year for a Belmont Spotlight – A Call to Action

by | 05.21.2012 | 11:39am

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.

Sample Email

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

  • Aaa

    Yeah but nyra better uphold their bargain of supplying better customer service to the every day fans/patrons.

  • ThoroughbredWriter

    Ray, this is brilliant.  And you are so right.  I’m going to post this link everywhere I can, and urge everyone I know to participate in the campaign.  Thank you for thinking of this, it’s well-thought-out, intelligent and correct.

    The thing I hate most about New York State’s attempt to take over horse racing is that their motives are strictly pecuniary.  99% of the politicos know nothing about horses or racing:  it’s all about State coffers, appointees and favors.   (For reference of similar “success,” please  see  “New York State Lottery” + Education + “general fund.”   For the State to take over racing would be disastrous, at best.)  These same politicians now will begin their campaigns to score high-profile seats for the Belmont, to see and be seen on June 9th.  Hypocrisy is so unbecoming.

  • Crusty37

    Dear Gov. Cuomo,

    My family and I have budgeted $0 to spend on hotels, transportation, dining and other BELMONT STAKES-RELATED events. Please take this into consideration as you make decisions regarding the horse industry in New York.

  • Whitehouse landlord

    Good news about good stuff is attractive to fans.  I am thrilled over
    I’ll Have Another’s try to fit the Triple Crown to his head!  Great news
    and wonderful celebration of an old and well loved sport.   What a wonderful spotlight to shine on this magnificent competition which, more than any other sport, typifies sportsmanship at the highest level. 

  • Idavis

    Year after year, we attend the Belmont Stakes.  We live in VA and LOVE Belmont Park…we attend races there at least two to three times a year.  We’ve always been treated well by the NYRA and all those we come in contact with at the park.  It may be an old park, but it’s still a wonderful place to watch racing.  You can actually see across the field!!  Can’t do that at the Derby or Preakness, can you?  We are hoping beyond hope that the BC will return to NY/Belmont Park in 2013.  However, w/the likes of Gov Cuomo, who appears he couldn’t care less about Thoroughbred racing or its fans, I have my doubts it will happen.  These politicians are either blind or ignorant to discount the value of Thoroughbred racing to the state’s coffers.  Each year we bring more and more friends into racing.  We began in 1999 with just the two of us, then it was 4, then 10, etc…and this year we have a group of twenty converging on NY for two to three days!  Fans and followers of Thoroughbred racing need no Triple Crown on the line to follow it’s athletic stars around the country…from KY, to NY, to Delaware, to NJ………we’re there because we love the sport.  Why can’t these pols get it??!!

  • Hrpr

    Ray may be brilliant but Bradford wrote the article.

    I hope the attendance record breaks this year but I will puke if IHA wins.

  • Rose Colored Horses

    I agree–Brilliant!

  • Rufusous

    Make sure to mention Cuomo’s faux pas about not indicting, impeaching, or prosecuting his Democratic alumni like Paterson, Sampson, Silver, and Smith for their involvement in the Aqueduct casino bid-rigging scam in the selection of the Aqueduct Entertainment Group as the winning bidder.

    And, don’t forget to P. S. him at the end of your letter, telling him you wouldn’t vote for him in the next election, even if there was another candidate, who had served time for murder. The murderer at least had paid for his crime by doing time in jail. What has Cuomo done?

  • Stanley inman

    Couldn’t disagree with you more about using this event to leverage n.y politicos about the value of new York racing.
    Why should we squander an opportunity to grow the sport, focus on the horse; talk about what’s RIGHT about racing;
    instead you have distilled this once in a life time(?) event down to our favorite strategy-short term SELF-INTEREST.
    Writing letters to politicosabout the importance of
    Come on.
    Use this event to showcase all that is good about racing to the larger general public;
    Look down the road, think big;
    Your suggestion sounds much like how “insiders” problem solve, which history has shown to be ineffectual.
    Forget NYRA on this important event.

  • wallyhorse


    I understand where you are coming from, but the fact is, Gov. Cuomo is likely to try and use the Belmont for his political gain, which you would expect from ANY Governor.  While what Brad is trying to do is not the popular thing (and yes, I do agree we need to focus on the positive), we need to remember the turmoil that is going in in New York right now.  Otherwise, it will go as many people suspect, with Aqueduct being rebuilt into a convention center (for which there actually is a sizable swath of land right across the other side of the subway tracks from Aqueduct, plus the 3rd floor of the old Grandstand, which was supposed to as I understand it was supposed to be converted to convention space anyway), Belmont possibly racing in the winter and Saratoga’s meet expanded.  That’s why Brad wrote what he did.

  • Stanley my man,

    I was unaware we could only accomplish one thing at a time. Rest assured that a vast majority of our coverage over the next few weeks will be celebrating the sport and the excitement of the Triple Crown. You’ll notice other unique content from the Paulick Report today included a video of Ray giving the winners and losers of the Preakness and Scott Jagow’s look at a day at Pimlico, including the infamous infield. 

    But we would be remiss as a website that often traffics in the political to not sound a clarion horn when we think an opportunity arises to help Governor Cuomo see just what a magnificent sport this is. As a guy who had been to the racetrack twice in his life before we started the Paulick Report, I hold hope that anyone can become a convert!


  • Stanley inman

    Wallyhorse, brad;
    Think for just a second;
    Why is NYRA on our mind, (whose mind?)
    Answer: insiders mind.
    Dont focus on the minutia of insiders business travails
    (it’s too sordid a story, it’s NEGATIVE.)
    Forget insiders, we want to be on the mind of those who don’t pay attention to racing.
    Normally that is an INSURMOUTBLE task.
    The general public could give a twit about NYRA, and it’s problems.
    What they care about is I’ll have another making history.
    That’s the story line/stay on message.

  • wallyhorse

    Exactly Brad:

    This also is an opportunity if it can be done right to perhaps change a few minds, no matter how minuscule the chances of that actually happening are.  Cuomo is in the minds of many trying to set up for a Presidential run in 2016 and he needs to “looks good” to the masses over the next 2-3 years (including being re-elected as Governor in 2014) for him to possibly do that, so that has to be kept in mind in any attempt to sway him.

  • Stanley inman

    You don’t throw a party
    invite people you never met
    (but hope someday might be your friend)
    And start the conversation with,
    “I’m a big fan of incest, my little sister and I …”
    That’s what focusing on NYRA would be like;
    Your guests would trample you to beat a path out of your home.

  • Tklptch

    How is it just because the Gov is trying to clean up the NYRA mess, that equates to him not appreciating the wonderful sport of horse racing. I don’t quite get your logic Bradford.
    You seem pretty willing to “sweep under the rug” the shannagins of the NYRA ripping off the horse players for that year by not reducing the takeout like they were legally obliged to do.

  • Not at all. NYRA definitely needs to be held responsible for its actions and I believe that is happening now. I just feel like (and I’m not the only one) that there’s potential for a “throw the baby out with the bathwater” moment here.


  • ktq1

    My last experience at Belmont for a TC run, the bathrooms went out.  On a 95+ degree day with 100,000 drunk fans.  It was an experience I’ll never forget.  The images are burned in my mind.  In no rush to go back.

  • GozzleheadJohnson

    The 4,000 people who go to Belmont Park every day are going to be very inconvenienced on Belmont Stakes Day. It’s very unfair for them, and nobody cares.

  • dh

    and so will the ones that go to Laurel everyday disguised as seagulls and geese.

  • Jlongrunners

    hooray for O’neil & connections   35k 2yrold  we paid more at same sale so could have been there if luck had smiled on us   good trainer GREAT agent great jockey  our sport NEEDS a triple crown winner  this horse is for real  and gives us smaller people more hope to keep trying  hope hrpr chokes on his puke

  • yea…all 200 of them!!!…


  • Don Reed

    Brad, if we can get ten consecutive TC winners, the tax revenues will cover for what’s not coming in from the JP Morgan $2B dime super (did I say that?  I meant “investment”) that went the way of Hayward & Kehoe.

  • TTownTony

    The sport really needs a triple crown winner, but it needs to clean itself up more!!! Smarty Jones really was America’s horse, and his handlers are the classiest in the business…..Doug O’Neill is a nice guy I’m sure, yet he has numerous drug violations on his resume. I love the horse and rider, but I can’t bring myself to like Doug O’Neill…..go Union Rags!

  • James Staples


  • I’m excited about the possibility of another Triple Crown!! I also believe it is the perfect time to induct Jean Cruguet into the Racing Hall of Fame. It has been 35 years since Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown, & Jean is still not in the Racing Hall of Fame.
    PLEASE, Racing Fans, let’s get this done :) 
    I wish I could attend the Belmont, but all my money is spent on caring for my 2 horses, which I adore & their needs come first. 

  • Indulto

    Mr. Cummings,
    Activism on the part of the Paulick Report is most welcome.

    The anti-racing factions have already used the always available national focus on the Derby to promote their agendas. Why shouldn’t pro-racing factions use this suddenly opportune Triple Crown attempt to enable racing enthusiasts to tell politicians and racing executives to start treating the sport and its customers as endangered species to be protected and nourished for the greater good.

    A stable and transparent NYRA that is customer-friendly and efficiently-operated, can only benefit both New York State and the racing industry nationwide. The already excessive takeout charged customers of the New York racing product became abusive as well, when the legislated termination of a temporary increase was ignored.

    The state was correct in pursuing an investigation once the situation was finally revealed by an audit. The NYRA board of directors has finally caved into the Governor’s demands by voting for a plan enabling him to change its makeup. Now it’s time for the Governor to show himself to be a friend of the bettor as taxpayer.

    Takeout on exotic wagers in New York, though lowered 2% in the wake of the audit, is still too high with its current 24% maximum compared to Kentucky’s 19%. Many believe that handle (and profits) could increase with even lower takeout. New York should be leading the way in experimentation to determine its own optimum takeout level that would maximize the shares of the receipts for the State, the horsemen, and the racing operation.

    The Governor could also show himself to be a friend of the horse and the horsemen as well by 1) supporting the phasing out of raceday-administered lasix in graded stakes starting with two-year-olds this year, and 2) committing to cooperating with other states in establishing a uniform medication policy with meaningful enforcement.

    Who knows, he might even get a race named after him.

  • Don Reed

    P.S. Thank you, as always, for the invite, but I went once to the BS, in 2002, and still haven’t recovered.  Walking around in a mob full of drunks (they were polite and good-natured, thank goodness) is highly recommended as a life experience, but only once.

    The problem also is that since all year round, NYRA attendence is pitiful, so the number of full-time non-racing employees remains constant (low).  Then, once a year, if they’re lucky, the place is mobbed.  The OTO employees (usually inexperienced & not too highly motivated to begin with) are overwhelmed.  This means you’re paying top dollar to substitize a slow-motion riot.  Pass.

  • Don Reed

    Make that “subsidize a slow-motion riot.”  The previous spelling of the word was concocted by a slow-motion brain.

  • Don Reed

    Good point.  When the Smarty Jones express train ended, no permanent good came of it.  The link to reality, the outside world, was severed, and the racing world went right back to its usual residences, under the rocks & the barrels.

  • Frank L.

    Town Tony —

    Are you aware that Joe Drape of the New
    York Times, showed a chart, in 2010, that clearly showed that Bob
    Baffert had 465 starts per medication violation; John Sadler had 478
    starts per medication violation; Kiaran
    McLaughlin had 710 starts per medication violation; and
    Doug O’Neil had 807 starts per medication violation!! O’Neil had the
    best record of the four in 2010. Can’t find a more recent chart with
    the same information. Anyone with more recent information please

  • ttowntony

     I dont like those guys either Frank!!! So O’Neill had the best record of the four names you mentioned regarding drug violations.hmmmmm

  • bignasty96

    That was a complete and total embarassment. I waited in line to pee in a bush. They also ran out of bottled water.

    To be fair, they did handle the Smarty Jones day tremendously, ditto for 2002 & 2003. I don’t know how they failed so badly in 2008 – wasnt even 100,000.

  • bignasty96

    Ive been going to Belmont w/ my dad since 1999. He went a bunch of times growing up on Long Island. My favorite day of the year, regardless if there is a Crown on the line.

    That being said….NYRA has been a disgrace for the entire time Ive been a horse racing fan.

Twitter Twitter
Paulick Report on Instagram