This past weekend I was out with some college buddies of mine and they started asking me about my next blog post. I proceeded to tell all of them my next piece was about the Belmont Stakes with the race coming up on Saturday. Now being that these buddies of mine have not taken the same kind of interest in the thoroughbreds the way I have, they all seemed to lose interest in the Belmont Stakes. One of them gave me a valuable piece of advice and gave me an idea to take a different approach to this piece and come up with ways to “Make Belmont Great Again”.
For those of you who do not know much about The Belmont Stakes, it is the third and final leg of the Triple Crown. The race is always held five weeks after the Kentucky Derby and ends the long and grueling stretch of three Grade 1 Stakes races for 3-year-olds. The Belmont Stakes, often called The Test of the Champion, is run at Belmont Park in Elmont, NY. The race is a mile and a half and is the longest race of the three Triple Crown races. The race also carries a purse of $1.5 million and the event draws some of the sport’s largest crowds on an annual basis.
This year will be the first time since 2013 the Belmont Stakes will not be run with a Triple Crown hopeful. In 2014, we had California Chrome. In 2015, we had the great American Pharoah. This year’s Belmont will not even see a rematch between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winners as Nyquist will be sitting out due to illness. This is the first race since 2007 where the two winners did not face off in the Belmont. That race in 2007 also recorded one of the lowest attendances in recent history of the race. Instead, we will just have another Grade I Stakes race, which to the average thoroughbred horse racing fan probably does not mean too much. The common fan may be more likely to be tuned in the Copa America or Euro Cup than the Belmont Stakes on Saturday afternoon. If Belmont and the NYRA (New York Racing Administration) want to avoid having these small crowds, they will need to get more creative and find ways to get the average fan interested.
Since 1979, there has been a total of twenty horses to win two legs of the Triple Crown and put into the unfortunate group of horses known as “Near Misses”. Winning two legs of the Triple Crown is certainly an accomplishment in of itself. These are championship caliber races, these horses compete against some of the best horses in the world, and they are all ran within a span of five. It can be comparable to the San Francisco Giants winning three of the last five World Series titles or the Chicago Blackhawks winning three Stanley Cups in a span of six years from 2010 – 2015. Owners, jockeys, and trainers work tirelessly for years to get a colt that qualifies for these races and do not take their chances for granted. Rather than dubbing these horses “Near Misses” and dwelling on the what ifs, start honoring and rewarding these horses for their accomplishments of winning three championship races in five weeks. They don’t need to be put on a pedestal like the Triple Crown winners, but give recognition to these horses. Give these horses some sort of trophy or additional purse money. Just find a way. By giving these “Near Misses” a chance at something greater you will be able to make for greater headlines and have a chance at getting the average fan more interested in the race and getting them out to the counter to get their wagers in.
Another idea that comes to mind is to increase the purse winnings. With the current purse set at $1.5 million, it is even with the purse of Preakness and $500k less than the purse at the Derby. This race should hold the highest purse of the three Triple Crown races. Afterall, this race has been called the Test of the Champion. By increasing the price, a more competitive group of horses will be entered to run and the horses that have already qualified for the Derby and Preakness will be more likely to join in on the third leg even if they have not been in the money in the previous two. The stakes will be higher with more money on the line and will create for an exciting, competitive race regardless of whether there is a Triple Crown on the line.
My greatest idea yet to “Make Belmont Great Again” may take away from the sport, but it will certainly get the crowds out to Belmont Park and will get people excited for the race. Why not have an infield party like the Derby and Preakness? The Kentucky Derby Infield draws crowds in excess of 100,000 fans. The InfieldFest at Preakness draws crowds in excess of 90,000 fans. While there will be some fans not there for the horse racing going around them, a large majority of the crowd will be there for the Belmont Stakes. The infield at Belmont Park is home to a large pond at the far turn, but it is also the largest infield of the three venues and is more than capable of throwing an infield party as large as the Derby and Preakness. Give people more reasons to come to the track. An infield party will also create more of a hype about the race, get more people will to the track, and ultimately, it will create larger payouts for fans that happen to pick the right horses.
This year’s race will not have the appeal of previous years where a Triple Crown hopeful was running and it will not have the appeal of an epic rubber match between the Derby winner and the Preakness winner. Instead we will have a race of 12 contenders all looking to add a Grade 1 Stakes notch to their reins. Exaggerator is the odds on favorite this Saturday at 5-6 odds per Sportsbook.ag. Exaggerator will be looking to win his second race in three weeks and be looking to capture his second jewel of the Triple Crown. This horse has already ran two great races in the Derby and Preakness. He was a close second to Nyquist at the Derby and he was the best horse on the track at the Preakness. If he comes out on Saturday and wins the Belmont Stakes, this colt needs to be recognized for what he has done over the last 5 weeks. Don’t make him just another “Near Miss” horse and give him the honor of winning two of the highest Grade Stakes the sport has to offer.
The field appears to be competitive this year even despite the lack of a Triple Crown hopeful. Derby horses Suddenbreakingnews, Brody’s Cause, Destin, Creator, Trojan Nation are all returning after taking the Preakness off. The Preakness Stakes runner-up (Cherry Wine) and 4th place finisher (Stradivari) are making the trip to Belmont to get another shot at Exaggerator. We will also see a few newcomers to the race such as Forever d’Oro, Governor Malibu, and Seeking the Soul. Lani will be making his third consecutive start joining Exaggerator as the only other horse to run in all three Triple Crown races. Triple Crown hopeful or not, I know I’ll be watching Saturday afternoon looking for Exaggerator to join the club of “Near Misses”.
They’re off in the Belmont Stakes….
Photo Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images