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HRN Original Blog:
A New York State of Racing

Horse Racing’s Top 10 Biggest Events

 
With the Triple Crown races fast approaching I thought it would be fun to take a look at the great events that horse racing offers. These special events draw racing’s biggest crowds that include both longtime fans and people attending the races for the first time just to be part of a major sports happening.
 
Below you will find American Horse Racing’s Top 10 Biggest Events. My rankings are based on the historical significance of the event, the quality of racing on that day, tradition, and attendance.
 
10) Pacific Classic (First run in 1991) – The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club hosts the west coast’s premier meeting and the Pacific Classic is the signature event of the summer. Del Mar’s scenic location is often described by using the title of Bing Crosby’s song, Where the Turf Meets the Surf.  Best Pal won the first Pacific Classic and in 1996 Cigar failed in his attempt to break Citation’s 16 race winning streak when he lost to Dare And Go.
 
9) The Haskell Invitational (1968) has been the main event of the summer at Monmouth Park. The Haskell is run on the last Sunday in July to avoid conflicts with other important summer stakes races. Haskell Day makes the Top 10 because its traditional hat giveaway, which began in 1988, is one of the most successful at any track.  Go to any place in the area where racing fans can be found and you will see Haskell hats being worn. In 2007 the Haskell was won by Any Given Saturday (over Curlin), in 2008 by Big Brown, and in 2009 by Rachel Alexandra. Attendance hovers around 40,000 each year with a record crowd of 53,638 in 2003.
 
8) Santa Anita Handicap (1935) – Early in its history the race was known as the “Hundred-Grander” because its $100,000 purse was unheard of at the time. Seabiscuit’s quest to win the Hundred-Grander captivated the country then and again in 2001 and 2003 with the book and movie about the horse. Also nicknamed “The Big ‘Cap” some of racing’s greatest champions have won the race:  Affirmed in 1979, Spectacular Bid 1980, and John Henry in 1981 and 1982.  Amazingly jockey Bill Shoemaker won The Big ‘Cap 11 times from 1954 to 1985.
 
7) Arkansas Derby (1936) is run on closing day of the Oaklawn Park meeting and year after year it brings in the largest crowds on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Attendance in 2012 was 63,804; in 2013 the race drew 66,158; and 63,186 in 2014. Just before this year’s race, tickets were selling on Stubhub for $95.50 to 362.50. In an impressive four-year period beginning in 2004, the Arkansas Derby winners were: Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Lawyer Ron, and Curlin.
 
6) Arlington Million (1981) – The Arlington Million was the first American race to offer a purse of $1,000,000. The Million had instant credibility when the great John Henry won the inaugural running. He came back to win again in 1984. The Million is part of the International Festival of Racing which features three graded turf stakes and helped bring turf racing to the forefront in the US.
 
5) Travers Stakes (1864) – The Travers Stakes, known as the Midsummer Derby is the signature event at Saratoga Race Course, the greatest meeting in American racing. The $1,000,000 Travers was first run at Saratoga in 1864 and is known as the Midsummer Derby.  Fans line up at the wee hours of the morning to get a quick start in the race for the coveted backyard picnic tables. Since 1961 the canoe in the infield pond is painted with the colors of the Travers winner. Past winners include:  Man O’ War, Whirlaway, Native Dancer, Buckpasser, Damascus, Alydar, Easy Goer, Holy Bull, and Bernardini.
 
4) Preakness Stakes (1873) - There is nothing quite like the infield experience at Pimlico for the Preakness, where racing’s best parties can be found. Half of the infield is taken up with the high priced corporate party tents and the other half is geared for the young crowd with a concert and free-flowing beer. While the well-dressed crowd attends the corporate parties, the young crowd in shorts and tee-shirts enjoys the Beerfest and past spectacles like Kegasus and the running of the Port-O-Potties.
 
3) Belmont Stakes (1866) is the oldest of the three Triple Crown races and to state the obvious the Belmont is the only race in which the Triple Crown can be won. There is no greater or more difficult achievement in racing then winning the Crown. When the Triple Crown is on the line the crowds and the anticipation grow unlike at any other racing event. There have, of course, only been 11 Triple Crown winners, the last was Affirmed in 1978. Twenty-two Derby/Preakness winners have failed to win the Crown and eight of them finished second. The greatest single performance in horse racing history occurred in the Belmont Stakes in 1973 when Secretariat set the track record of 2:24 and won his Triple Crown by 31 lengths.
 
2) Breeders' Cup (1984) – For better or for worse the Breeders’ Cup changed the face of horse racing in this country. As time passed it became clear that divisional championships depended on performance in the Breeders’ Cup. Races that were once the most important stakes in the country became prep races for the Breeders’ Cup. Some of those races even had to give up their traditional places on the calendar or risk obsolescence.
 
1) Kentucky Derby (1875) – There is nothing like the Kentucky Derby for history and tradition. The Derby is the race that owners, trainers, and jockeys want to win the most. A win in the Derby is a career changer. The Derby is also the event that racing fans want to attend the most. Derby traditions run deep whether we talk about mint juleps (1938), Derby glasses (1938), women sporting their finest hats, men wearing outlandish suits, the blanket of roses to the winner (1883), or the playing of My Old Kentucky Home (1930). The Derby has been run every year since 1875, both the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes skipped a few years more than a century ago. The Derby regularly attracts a crowd of more than 150,000.  

 

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Older Comments about Horse Racing’s Top 10 Biggest Events...

probably gets a bad rap for the deluge Breeder's Cup.
jerzmade--I look forward to seeing you at this year's Haskell
I know Monmouth Park isnt a big venue compaired to others but i go every year and collect the hat every year. I love it there, i live 2 minutes off the beach and its a 20 minute drive to monmouth park so its perfect. The food trucks they have and the events they have are great. You have to be in the picnic area during haskell day. Its a great day at the shore in late july.
Oops sorry. Of top of heard. Hmm, I'd slip it in the 3rd or 4th spot, I think.
What took you so long!...lol. don't F with Mary's gal :)
not a bad description
Yes, she did. Not bad description, EPT. I really liked the Queen's Plate winner of that year, too.
The winner of the Alabama that year had a decent career.
I joke with Dan all the time as he told The Toronto Star that he is looking from the "pefect" Queen's Plate call and we always yell out PERFECT when he goes by!
THAT was the last time she won. I followed her to the Alabama as a guest of the NYRA (we decorated the winner of the 4th on Alabama Day with the Hall of Fame colors) and she never picked up a foot and climbed the entire trip running last all trip. Ms. Carrol did not know what she was doing methinks, with this one.
Vic- The last Plate I was at was 2011. It was PACKED that day. So great to see the large crowds. When Dan said "They're At the post!" and hearing the crowd roar was extra special. Then the filly blew them away.
Attendance was UP last year for the Q Plate even with the rain, but it does not compare to many on this list
I would like to say the Queen's Plate(But it is restricted to CDN Breds) and the Kentucky derby, but that is primarily for dirt runners, and is only most prominent in the USA/Canada.
I would say the biggest event is Royal Ascot, but if you want to go off of one day events, I would rank the Epsome Derby #1, ARC #2, Melbourne Cup #3, Dubai World cup night #4, and Japan Cup #5. If you want to say biggest day event for any form of racing, it is hard to look past the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The Dubai World Cup? How can you omit a $27.5 million single night of racing? Oh, that's right, American trainers don't want to go there.
What about the Dubai World Cup? Interested to see how Belmont Day is going to take over the next few years. The key of course is getting the top horses, especially those that have some sort of a rivalry.
7) Japanese Cup 8) Preakness 9) Travers 10) Epsom Derby ... I'm too ignorant on some of the others mentioned (like Hong Kong), so I can't make a comment. KY Derby is an easy #1, in my opinion, but positions 2-9 could be argued, I think.
Off the top of my head (and the comments :D) .... 1) KY Derby 2) Royal Ascot 3) Breeder's Cup 4) Melbourne Cup 5) Arc Weekend 6) Belmont
Our emeritus Hall of Fame director was there last November and was astonished. He said THree things keep their racing THRIVING 1) Corporate support is everyhwere, almost every race, every race meeting 2) GOOD PR all the time all over the media which keeps interest alive and 3) The TV station handlig the national simulcast signal CO-ORDINATES the post times so that races go all day about every three minutes. IF your racing association MISSES THEIR POST TIME without a valid excuse (rider or horse down, gate malfunction) you LOSE all percentages from the race's parimutuel pool. IT keeps them on time.
It still is a big race. But if you go back 5 years and before that How does the Met Mile not make this list. This has always been known as The Breeders race. No race to win has ever needed the combination of Speed and Stamina to win.

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 Meet Matt Shifman 
 
 

Matt Shifman has been on the Horse Racing Nation staff since 2011 and currently serves as Assistant Editor. Matt covers Aqueduct, Belmont Park, Monmouth Park, and Saratoga in his two HRN blogs Racing at the Jersey Shore and New York State of Racing.

 

Matt’s articles and tweets frequently appear in the America’s Best Racing weekly Notebook. In 2012 he became a voter in the NTRA weekly polls for the Top Thoroughbred and Top Three-Year-Old.

 

The best way to get to know Matt is to check out some of his favorite articles from the past couple years.

   

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