American Pharoah did something on Saturday that no horse in the world had been able to achieve in 37 years: win the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown.
After taking the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, the first two legs of the crown, Pharoah entered Belmont as the heavy favorite, so much so that many betters didn’t even bother to cash their winning tickets in favor of holding on to the historical memorabilia.
$19,855,889 was wagered at the track on the marquee race, with $9.44 million placed on the favorite at odds of 3/5, which means a $2 bet to win paid just $3.50, or $1.50 net profit.
On Monday it was revealed that more than 94,000 $2 tickets to win on American Pharoah went uncashed, leaving $315,829 in unclaimed winnings.
Most of the receipts likely went back into their owner’s pockets, but some have made their way to online marketplaces like eBay and Craigslist, currently selling between $20 and $30.
Great Saturday, Gloomy Future?
While the scene was pure excitement over the weekend at the Long Island racetrack, horse racing insiders are split on how the Triple Crown feat will affect the industry long-term.
“The Triple Crown storyline is by far the best thing the sport has going for it,” Randy Moss, NBC Sports reporter said. “It attracts the interest of people who have no interest in following thoroughbred racing the rest of the year.”
And statistics seem to support Moss’ claims. In 2013, the last year without the excitement of a potential Triple Crown, just 47,000 attended the Belmont Stakes, a far cry from the 100,000-plus that filled the grandstand in 2014 as California Chrome and the 90,000 (limited by the New York Racing Association) that packed in last weekend to watch American Pharaoh’s run at glory.
When it comes to betting, the lifeline of the industry, totals also drastically decrease when a Triple Crown possibility isn’t on the line.
2008: Big Brown was seeking the first Triple Crown since 1978. Over $100 million was wagered and 94,476 were in attendance.
2009: No Triple Crown possibility, $10 million less wagered and attendance dropped by more than 42,000.
2010: No Triple Crown possibility, total wagered drops another $15 million from a year earlier and attendance slides even further.
Of course, the recession could have played a part in the dwindling figures, and total bets did bounce back north of $80 million in 2011, but still a far cry from the 2008 contest.
It wasn’t until 2014 and California Chrome’s run at history that total bets exceeded $100 million again, and it wasn’t even close as $150.2 million was placed on the Belmont races.
Though betting and attendance understandably declines during non-crown years, should a horse win the Derby and Preakness again, many believe the turnout will be just as strong before the 37-year drought ended.
“A Triple Crown is a Triple Crown,” Jorge Velasquez, hall of fame jockey told Metro. “When a horse has won the first two, they’re going to come back.”
Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, believes the challenge is capitalizing off the mainstream coverage his industry is currently receiving. “Long-term it is hard to gauge the impact,” he said. “It will require careful planning and diligent execution.”