NYRA CEO Chris Kay kind of casually mentioned last week that general admission for the Belmont could 'sell out,' and not be available for walk-up customers on Saturday. David Grening of the Form reported that: Kay had not yet defined what number he and his staff feel is the cut-off point for sales.
“I’m more committed to people having a great time than breaking a record for attendance, particularly since some of the attendance records from the past, I’m not sure how reliable they are.”Yet, here we are, five days before the race, and there's absolutely nothing on the NYRA website - not a single word - to indicate that sales could be cut off. Under 'Headlines' on the home page, there's a story entitled 'Grandstand, clubhouse admission still available.." and if you click on the story to delve further, it reads (and I quote): "As well, walk-up admission can be purchased at the track on Belmont Stakes Day itself.."
So, I'm not sure what Kay is thinking about here. Closing the gates would be a total departure from the way the tracks have operated around here for as long as I've been going, and, I'd imagine, longer than that (if you can imagine that). So, if it's really being considered, NYRA needs to make that entirely clear. A rather offhand mention at a board meeting that was reported near the bottom of an article in the Daily Racing Form just will not do. In fact, I think that NYRA needs to make a decision on this really soon and make it known one way or another. Either you can walk up and get in, or you cannot. Barring some kind of unforeseen 'opening night at the Meadowlands scenario' in which an unexpected throng makes the logistics absolutely impossible to fit more people in, I just don't see how they can shut the gates mid-day and turn away people who have just shelled out as much as $50 to park away.
"When was the last time a race track had to turn customers away because the place wasn't big enough to hold them all?" read the NY Times headline on September 2, 1976, the day after the Big M opened (I was amongt those that never made it past the access road). But there's no way Belmont isn't big enough to handle any crowd that shows up on Saturday (barring, as I said, some kind of completely unanticipated - and highly unlikely - deluge of humanity). People who were at the Smarty Jones Belmont that drew, officially, 120,139 complain that it was too crowded. But I was there, and I disagree. I thought it was fine. (I remember the Foolish Pleasure-Ruffian match race as the most insufferably crowded day at a racetrack ever.)
And besides, this is a different era of Belmont crowds anyway, with the ban on bringing in alcohol and, starting last year with the oppressive security measures, coolers and bags bigger than 28"L x15"W x17"H too. (And by the way, you're not allowed to bring in weapons either. Just so you know.) So I'm putting the over/under at 95,000. Belmont is well big enough to handle that just fine. Fact is that Kay also said that there were plenty of general admission left....and that Ticketmaster does not have the tell-tale "Not Many Left!" warning that indicates that there are....well, not many left. The cynic in me wonders if NYRA has some kind of incentive to steer its customers to Ticketmaster, where they will pay an extra $2.25 in service fees, a 22.5% markup to the $10 cost of getting in.
- In looking up that 1976 article on the Meadowlands, I ran across another one on the crowd at Yonkers that night.
In contrast to the New Jersey oval, which had to turn away thousands, Yonkers had only 11,783 fans passing through its turnstiles. The former low of the previous 37 nights of the meeting was 12,472.The article goes on to note that the crowd grew as the night went on and people turned away from the Meadowlands arrived late. I was amongst that contingent! Yonkers long ago stopped announcing their attendance figures. But I would surmise that they don't have much more than 11,783 fans combined in an entire month of racing there.
- Joe Drape writes in the Times of Tom Durkin, who will call his last Belmont on Saturday with one last chance to call a Triple Crown winner. It's a great read, and includes a video montage of his seven calls of failed attempts at glory. Check it out. "The Triple Crown will remain vacant, once again," Durkin noted in 2008 after Big Brown pulled up at the top of the stretch. And it shall remain vacant again on Saturday. We'll see what NYRA's legendary voice comes up with calling his final failed attempt.