This year’s run for the Triple Crown is confirmation that in the world of sports, the best stories are the Cinderella ones. Belmont Stakes, the third and final jewel in the hunt for Thoroughbred Racing’s Triple Crown, presents the most interesting field of contenders we’ve seen in the past few years, highlighted by one horse who’s made a lot of something out of next-to-nothing.
Newbie owners bred the latest Triple Crown hopeful, California Chrome, at a cut-rate cost of $10,000. The colt’s humble West Coast origins muddle him with less-than-prestigious, or rather non-Kentucky, horses and label him as an “outsider.” His trainer, Art Sherman, is a 77-year-old relative unknown former jockey who has never entered in a Triple Crown race. His jockey, Victor Espinoza, curiously overcame his fear of horses by mastering the art of riding them. And let’s not forget that the New York Racing Association nearly barred California Chrome from entering Belmont per the use of equine nasal strips, giving the racing community a painful case of déjà vu via I’ll Have Another’s prematurely terminated endeavor of 2012.
Perhaps it’s because the favored horse started out as more of a pauper than a prince, but Belmont Stakes tickets are a bargain deal in 2014. This may change quicker than a furlong race, however, as tickets prices are on the incline since the chestnut’s nasal strip approval, assuring fans that Chrome has the green light to clinch one of the most revered triumphs in all of sports.
Before the 2014 Kentucky Derby ran, the average Belmont Stakes ticket cost $176 (5/1). When California Chrome won by 1 ¾ lengths at Churchill Downs, Belmont tickets jumped up to a $228 average. After Chrome won at Preakness by 1 ½ lengths and a Triple Crown bid became reality, fan interest sky-rocketed. Following nasal strip consent, Belmont Stakes tickets reached its highest price thus far, at $285 average (5/20). There is a distinct trend going here, though Belmont is still considerably cheaper than the Kentucky Derby, which peaked at an incredible $923 on average. Churchill Downs may well showcase the “fastest two minutes in sports,” but the Triple Crown doesn’t really hang in the balance quite like it does at Belmont. Will Belmont Stakes tickets meet, or surpass, the price of Kentucky Derby tickets?
If we look at ticket behavior for the 2014 Kentucky Derby, the average price dropped significantly as racing’s premier event in April approached. The situation at June’s Belmont race is a horse of a different color. Comparing trends side-by-side, you can see that as Kentucky prices decreased with each passing day, Belmont prices display a steady incline. The lowest price point at Churchill Downs came two days before the race, at $492 on average, and spectators would have saved over half of their money if they waited to buy Kentucky Derby tickets. Conversely, data indicates that Belmont Stakes tickets will reach their peak in the few days before the race. As prices build simultaneously with anticipation, race-goers may wind up spending double their money if they put off purchasing.
Belmont Stakes is a peculiar event. Its importance and popularity is entirely dependent upon the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, so media, fans and trainers alike don’t know the magnitude of the race until three weeks before gates open. Without the potential for a Triple Crown winner in last year’s Belmont Stakes, the interest in the New York horse race plummeted severely. The 2013 crowd at Elmont drew just 47,562 people; compare this to the 2002-2004 years, with consecutive Crown contenders, and Belmont’s attendance was at its highest-ever: a whopping 120,000-plus spectators.
TV ratings, too, exhibit this inclination. When there is no possibility of a Triple Crown, NBC pulls in just 7 million viewers for Belmont; when Smarty Jones galloped in 2004 for a shot at the honor, the network recorded 21.9 million viewers. Already, Chrome’s bid as the first horse to win the Triple Crown since 1978’s Affirmed, bumped Preakness Stakes interest by 5-point ratings. Now, with everything on the line, this high-drama storyline has caught the attention of race lovers and casual fans alike.
— USIC (@USICLLC) May 22, 2014
Only eleven immortal colts have won the Triple Crown in history, while 21 horses have been in California Chrome’s horse-shoes before: that is, winning both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes before attempting Belmont. California Chrome is a heavy odds favorite, but even winning six consecutive races and having control by mid-stretch in each, doesn’t necessarily mean a Triple Crown sweep is imminent. Kentucky and Preakness are separated by a fortnight, with Belmont scheduled three weeks later; this tight calendar makes the New York track a potential bevy of misfortune contenders.
The world of horse racing reaches its summit annually at Belmont Stakes. Will we witness a royal coronation or will bettors play the court jester? Get your 2014 Belmont Stakes tickets to be a part of history and find out yourself!
Photo Credit: NYRA/Adam Coglianese