While the horse Union Rags may have won the Belmont Stakes in 2012, it was the absence of I’ll Have Another that came away as the talk of the race.
“All I know is that I’ll Have Another was scratched,” says seemingly everyone in the country. The Belmont Stakes, which is one of the premier sporting events in the calendar year, came away from this year’s race with an undeniably underwhelming day.
In a sport in which the figureheads are not athletes but horses, it’s not the personalities involved but the pure skillset of the talent. This means that the favorites will be based strictly on who the best racers are.
When Kentucky bred horse I’ll Have Another was scratched from the Belmont Stakes and retired due to a leg injury, there was a sweeping sigh of disappointment from all interested sports fans. The horse, which was only foaled in 2009, had won the first two legs of the Triple Crown and was only one win away from finishing the accomplishment.
He was one horse of three (Bold Venture in 1936, Burgoo King in 1932) to be scratched before the third race, earning the opportunity to win the Triple Crown.
Words used to describe the event include “anticlimactic” and “disappointing” as the horse came into the race as an easy favorite. This, of course, is to be expected.
Coming into the 2008 season, 3,889 horses had raced in a Triple Crown event. Only 274 horses have even won one event, 50 had won two events, and only 11 horses had ever won all three.
This means that the Triple Crown is about half as rare as a perfect game in baseball, which is regarded as one of the most celebrated events in sports.
The last time that the Triple Crown was won was in 1978.
The day before the race, I’ll Have Another was listed as a 5:4 gambling favorite to win the race. That means that Las Vegas had an 80 percent chance of winning the Triple Crown when he went into the race at the Belmont Stakes.
After I’ll Have Another was scratched, Dullahan was noted as the favorite in the event. Union Rags, another favorite, ended up winning the race, but the excitement had been lost.
The expected crowd simmered from an expected 100,000 to only 80,000, which is below capacity. There would be no I’ll Have Another. There would be no Triple Crown. There would be no electricity in the stands.
In 2008, when Big Brown attempted the Triple Crown, 94,476 fans were in attendance, according to The Huffington Post. Ironically, Big Brown was unable to finish the race. Last year, when there was no potential for a Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes held only 55,779 fans.
The stark disappointment was absolutely palpable. It had been 34 years since the last time that a horse had won the Triple Crown.
The number of television viewers (7.67 million) was also strikingly lower than the 13.06 million viewers that Big Brown received in 2008.
If nothing else, I’ll Have Another being scratched from the event shows that this sport may be too fragile. I’ll Have Another was a three-year-old horse, and this is the end of his career.
Unlike other mainstream sports, fans will have trouble getting attached to their personal favorite brand when the career span is so short. Perhaps that’s why gamblers like the game, as it induces new odds and variables but ultimately it hurts the popularity.
To see that the attendance difference of a Triple Crown potential is nearly 40,000 people, or 40 percent of the people that would have been there, is astonishing.
Horse racing is not like others sports. And in this case, that’s what hurt the Belmont Stakes.
Union Rags may have been the winner of the race, but no one will remember that in ten years. People remember history, not failed history. People remember horses like Secretariat, just as people would have remembered I’ll Have Another.
The results of this were simple: we wanted to have another Triple Crown.
Bryan is always interested in new opportunities and can be reached on Twitter. Click here to Follow @BryanKalbrosky.