What we learned at the Belmont
Drosselmeyer won the 142nd running of the Belmont, but he didn't blaze trails
It's not the colt's fault this year's group of three-year-olds is mediocre
It was great to see hall-of-fame trainer Bill Mott win a Triple Crown race
Five things we learned after Drosselmeyer prevailed at Saturday's 142nd running of the Belmont Stakes:
1. Drosselmeyer is no Secretariat: Heck, he's not even Eskendereya. That was a slow race, folks. In fact, there's almost no way it could have been slower. Clocking in a 2:31.57 seconds, it was the slowest Belmont in 15 years, the second slowest in 77. The only really good thing I have to say about Drosselmeyer's performance -- besides the fact that it was a gutsy, determined one -- is that it was at least nice to see hall-of-famer Bill Mott, one of the more accomplished trainers in the game, finally win a Triple-Crown race.
Drosselmeyer was a ho-hum winner of a ho-hum race. Earlier this week, a friend of mine at SI, a racing fan, had lamented that without the winners of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, this year's Belmont had been reduced to little more than an allowance race. I thought at the time that might be going a bit too far for a Grade I stake, and I still do. But I certainly appreciate the sentiment. It's too bad, because the Belmont is one of racing's best shows. It was nice to see that more than 45,000 fans filled Belmont Park for it.
2. Don't blame any of this on Drosselmeyer: The colt won fair and square. But his victory throws into sharp relief the mediocrity of this year's group of three-year-olds. Outside of two or three top horses, including injured Kentucky Derby favorite Eskendereya and Preakness champion Lookin At Lucky, there's a lot of parity and not much else. As ESPN's broadcast crew pointed out this afternoon, there were very nearly nine different top-three finishers in each of this year's Triple Crown races. It's awfully hard to generate fan interest that way. I'll be interested to see the television ratings for the race. They were healthy after the Derby. I'd imagine they won't be this time. Hope I'm wrong.
3. There may be more thin crops of three-year-olds to come: Few sports have been hit harder by the global economic downturn in the last two years than thoroughbred racing. Both the amount of money bet on racing and the amount of money spent on racehorses has declined dramatically since 2008-sales at Kentucky's Keeneland Race Course dropped over $200 million in '09. With discretionary cash and demand both nearing dangerous lows, the rest of the industry is struggling. As reported on Friday by USA Today, The Jockey Club estimates that the foal crop dropped from 33,550 in '08 to 27,800 this year.
I wrote for the magazine a few years ago that in spite of appearances, the Sport of Kings was a relatively healthy game, one that was especially adept at the production of revenue. I don't think anybody foresaw anything like what's going on in the game right now. Times are tough.
4. Mike Smith capped his career today: Drosselmeyer's rider was already in the Hall of Fame. And he had already won both a Derby and a Preakness in his career. But with his victory at Belmont, he finished off a career Triple Crown. Smith had been 0-12 in the Belmont Stakes coming in, which was surprising considering that he had enjoyed most of his early success at the New York track. He's sometimes knocked for being too patient with horses, for waiting too long to make his move. But that wasn't the case today, as Smith kept Drosselmeyer in the clear and just close enough to the pace that he was able to overtake front-running First Dude in the shadow of the finish line.
Smith's late-running charge was somewhat similar to his Kentucky Derby victory aboard long-shot Giacomo in 2005-though he didn't come from as far off the pace in the Belmont.
5. There's a chance we'll see some of these horses again at the Travers: That wasn't a sure thing until late last month, when the state legislature approved a $25-million emergency loan to the New York Racing Association, which owns and operates Belmont, in addition to Aqueduct and Saratoga. The money will allow the troubled organization-still waiting for long-ago-approved video lottery terminals to be installed at Aqueduct-to continue operations into early 2011. Just a week earlier, NYRA had sent a letter to its 1,400 employees informing them that it was considering closing its tracks down on June 9 because of a shortage of cash.
That means historic Saratoga will be open for business this summer, and its showcase event, the Travers Stakes, still has a chance of attracting the best three-year-old thoroughbreds in the country. That prospect alone will be enough to keep me coming back to the races.
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