Belmont Stakes 2012: I'll Have Another's Absence Doesn't Cripple Horse Racing

Ian HanfordFeatured ColumnistJune 11, 2012

ELMONT, NY - JUNE 09:  I'll Have Another is walked to a ceremonial retirement prior to the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 9, 2012 in Elmont, New York.  (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)
Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

The Belmont Stakes was a success despite the absence of its headline horse. Even without I'll Have Another, the final Triple Crown leg saw spikes in attendance, wagers and television ratings, according a article.

After I'll Have Another's injury most people expected the Belmont's popularity to plummet.

I know I did.

Horse racing already exists on the fringe of the sporting world. Detaching any historical importance from its ultimate race is not the way to gain popularity.

The Belmont's ability to overcome any adversity from the Triple Crown hopeful's tragic injury is remarkable.

Let's take a look at attendance, wagers and television ratings. They all increased from last year, and they will tell the story.



The article has this to say about the spectators in attendance for Saturday's race.

Belmont Park officials had expected a crowd of about 100,000 to see if I'll Have Another could end the 34-year drought of Triple Crown winners. Instead, 85,811 fans showed up — the largest ever for a non-Triple try and sixth-biggest at the track, bettering by 16.2 percent the previous record of 73,857 in 2001 when no Triple sweep was in play. The attendance was up nearly 54 percent from the 55,779 who showed up last year.

These numbers show the sport's overall popularity this year. The increase from last year shows how much this year's Triple Crown run grabbed people's attention.

I'll Have Another certainly deterred some interest. But I think it also had the opposite impact in some cases.

Once I'll Have Another went down, racing fans had to wonder who would take his place as the race's favorite. An entirely new way to look at the field (and speculate the winner) was borne.

Attracting the sixth largest crowd in Belmont history is impressive given the complete letdown suffered one day before the race.



I'd be remiss if I didn't drop some more facts and figures on you. The previously-mentioned piece had this to say about wagers involving this year's Belmont Stakes.

The on-track crowd wagered $13,777,920 on the 13-race card, second-largest at the Belmont Stakes. The figure trailed the $14,461,402 bet in 2004 when Birdstone spoiled the Triple Crown bid of Smarty Jones. Nationwide betting totaled more than $96 million, third-highest for Belmont Stakes day.

The same factors surrounding the race's attendance are at play here.

Once I'll Have Another's injury became public, odds were immediately shuffled. This changed the strategy of the "on-track crowd" dramatically.

Who was going to emerge as the safe horse? Who would be the new favorite? Did the long shots shuffle?

All of these are viable questions, and all of a sudden the answers were different.

Drawing the second-largest total in Belmont Stakes history is due to the last-minute intrigue. I'll Have Another's injury shuffled the deck and people were too curious to resist exploring the rest of the field.


TV Ratings

For the final time, check out the article's statements concerning Belmont's television ratings.

Overnight television ratings for the race on NBC were up 13 percent from last year, according to ratings data from the Nielsen Co. The 5.4 overnight rating was the highest for a Belmont without a Triple Crown bid since 2005 on the network, which aired all three Triple Crown races for the second straight year. Final numbers will be out Tuesday.

It's nice to know I wasn't the only one tuning into an I'll Have Another-less Belmont Stakes. This goes to show that momentum matters.

The Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes were both incredibly exciting races.

I'll Have Another's sprinting down the backstretch to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown is a memorable moment in horse racing history.

Watching these races happen on TV was riveting. I was glued to the edge of my seat and found myself yelling "Go!" in the race's final lengths. It was mesmerizing, must-watch television.

People's memories aren't too short term to remember these races. With or without I'll Have Another, casual observers wanted to try and catch one last dramatic finish.

Once you see drama at the end of a major sporting event, it's impossible not to crave it again. I'll Have Another's Triple Crown run caught people's attention, and that impression stuck with them even in his absence.