The inaugural Stars & Stripes Festival at Belmont Park, featuring five graded stakes races including the internationally themed $1.25 million Belmont Derby and $1 million Belmont Oaks, was a resounding success on all fronts. On a clear, comfortable Saturday afternoon, Belmont Park hosted 11,118 guests who wagered $2,825,797 on track; an increase of 56.8 percent from last year. Total handle for the 10-race card was $18,829,265, an increase of 37.2 percent year over year.
As a point of comparison, on Saturday, July 6 last year, attendance at Belmont Park was 5,047, with on-track wagering for the 11-race card $1,802,402 and a total handle of $13,722,651.
The Stars & Stripes card featured six turf races, highlighted by the first running of the Grade 1 Belmont Derby, which attracted a field of 11 including five Europeans, and the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks, with a field of 10 fillies, including three from abroad. Also Saturday were the Grade 2, $500,000 Suburban Handicap, the Grade 3, $400,000 Belmont Sprint Championship and the Grade 2, $200,000 Dwyer.
"The Belmont spring meet shouldn't end with the Belmont Stakes," said Martin Panza, senior vice-president of racing operations for The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA). "Now that we've hosted it, I think people will become more aware of it. I think next year, we'll look to have a stronger field size early in the card and perhaps add a stake or two. I was pleased with the European response for the first year, and I'd like to reach out to Australia, New Zealand and Japan in the future."
In addition to a strong, widely praised racing card, Stars & Stripes also featured a host of family-friendly activities, including a food truck festival, a T-shirt giveaway and mystery mutual vouchers worth anywhere from $5 to $1,776. Two lucky winners redeemed the $1,776 vouchers.
"I walked through the facility a number of times and it seemed like people were having a good time," said Panza. "I'm delighted 11,118 people chose to come to Belmont Park, bring their beach chairs and enjoy themselves. There's plenty of room in the backyard and on the apron so people can be comfortable and spread out. I'd like to have more big days - Belmont Park has a lot to offer and we have to know how to use it."