The top three finishers in the Kentucky Derby are returning to Belmont Park to run in the final leg of the Triple Crown (Photo courtesy Eclipse Sportswire).
There’s no doubt in my mind that one of things that drew me to horse racing is the sheer volume of numbers that surround the sport. My day job is a wall of numbers, spreadsheets, and the backs of envelopes; my hobbies include fantasy sports and poker. A common theme in my life is math and statistics. The numbers surrounding the sport of racing can be daunting, but enjoying the sport need not be advanced-placement calculus. The new math shows us that the sum of racing’s past and present equals one fantastic day of sport plus a bright future.
14 - The number of starters in this year’s Belmont Stakes, the most since 1996. The large field, which includes the Kentucky Derby top three, the Preakness winner, and six other Derby starters. This large field means a race that will be great to bet – as an amateur handicapper, I see seven horses that I expect to have a good shot at winning the race, based on one factor or another.
440 – The number of yards longer that the Belmont stakes is than the Kentucky Derby. The Derby distance of 1¼ miles is roughly equal to five times around an Olympic track. The Belmont adds the equivalent of a grueling sixth. None has run so far already; it is unlikely that any horse in this field will run this far again.
2:24 – The amount of time it took the superstar Secretariat to win the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown in 1973, 40 years ago. His nearest competitor was 31 lengths behind. It is widely considered to be the greatest performance by an equine athlete of all time, but superlatives almost do not do it justice. Not only did he break the Belmont Stakes record, the Belmont Park record and world record for the distance, within the race he bested his times for the distances of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, for which he also established records. I consider this story, about Secretariat’s passing in 1989 and the author’s recollection of his Triple Crown run, to be the best sports article of all time.
120,319 - The record attendance for the Belmont Stakes, set in 2004 to watch Smarty Jones chase the Triple Crown.
94,476 – The attendance in 2008, the last time a horse (Big Brown) started with the Triple Crown on the line.
51,204 – The average attendance the last three years (2009-2011) when a Triple Crown was not on the line.
85,811 – Last year’s attendance, when we all thought I’ll Have Another would attempt to make history but was scratched a day before the race with an injury. I think the math here is compelling:
- 50,000 people are going to attend the Belmont no matter what. Outside of Kentucky Derby day and the Breeders Cup in the fall, Belmont Stakes day is the best single day of racing in North America. The Belmont itself always ends up a compelling race, but the 4-5 races that immediately precede it attract the very top horses in racing’s other important divisions, including older horses of both genders that prefer to run on Turf and sprinters. These races also attract large fields and are prestigious in their own right. This “undercard,” as it’s known, brings the crowd and a lot of great betting opportunities.
- 45,000-to-70,000 people come to see history. There are few sports where a single event’s attendance will double based on the historical significance of its outcome. Some might say that interest in horse racing declines when a Triple Crown is not on the line. I say it’s the opposite: racing maintains a passionate fan base yet frequently provides transcendent opportunities that are meaningful to lovers of sport.
- Of, say, the 45,000 who came to New York see I’ll Have Another try to make history, only 9,000 decided to stay home (or more likely, walk around Manhattan). Those that came apparently had a blast regardless, as they bet more at the races that day ($4.98 million) than any crowd previously, including the 120,000 that came to see Smarty Jones in 2004. I would not be at all surprised if that day’s race produced more fans than a Triple Crown try.
13 – The total number of races on the Belmont day card, including 5 graded stakes (considered to be the highest caliber of racing in North America). The best racehorse to run on Saturday may in fact run in the race before the Belmont Stakes, the Manhattan Handicap, a race for older horses on the turf. A horse named Point of Entry has won multiple Grade 1 races on the turf and will be a big favorite in his race. I am very excited to see him in action.
POINT OF ENTRY WINNING HIS 2013 DEBUT
Photo courtesy Eclipse Sportswire
3-1– The morning-line odds on Orb, the Kentucky Derby winner. The morning line (ML) is the estimate that the track oddsmaker believes will be the odds at post time for any given horse. The morning line mostly is there as a guide to help plan your betting in advance and, at least, is a professional handicapper’s guess at the relative ability of the horses running. A great way to learn handicapping as a novice or intermediate bettor is to look at the morning-line favorite for a race and learn why that horse was made the favorite. If you see a number, or pattern of numbers, that mean the favorite is “good”, you may discover one or two similar patterns that might be overlooked on a longshot.
$13,610 – The average payout on a $1 superfecta bet (first four finishers in a row) on the Belmont Stakes over the last five years. Granted, the range goes from $426 to $37,026 but shows that big payoffs are the norm, rather than the exception, on Belmont day. I don’t really advocate newer players attempt a superfecta bet, but they can be fun if played for 10-cents with a group of friends.
10:35 a.m.– That’s when I’ll be showing up at Belmont Park on Saturday, one hour before first post. As the people who taught me the game like to say, “you got to have some time to get your bearings, study your Form, and pick you out a few shots.” I’ll be bringing my rain jacket, a few handicapping materials, a several denominations of legal tender with which to make perfectly legal bets.
12 – Ounces of New York Strip steak that I will be having, late at night, as my family and friends celebrate a fantastic day at the track. Good luck everyone.