Between The Hedges: When it comes to racing festivals, bigger is better

May 25, 2021

The following is the ninth edition of a bi-weekly series entitled Between The Hedges, discussing the business of betting with a focus on trending wagering topics and statistics. This week’s column is penned by Joe Longo, NYRA General Manager of Content Services. Send your questions for Between The Hedges to

ELMONT, N.Y. – Belmont Stakes Day is the highest handling day on the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) racing calendar each season and that success has grown over the last several years.

Headlined by the 153rd running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on Saturday, June 5, this year’s three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival kicks off on Thursday, June 3 and will include 17 stakes races in total with eight Grade 1 races to be contested on Belmont Stakes Day.

The big-day concept was launched at the 2014 Belmont Stakes, the first under NYRA Senior Vice President of Racing Operations Martin Panza, by bundling together major stakes races to showcase the best our sport has to offer at a time when most eyes are watching.

The 2014 Belmont Stakes featured a Triple Crown attempt by California Chrome. Triple Crown attempts have a material impact on the amount wagered and partnered with the newly implemented multi-stakes concept, total commingled handle was $151,109,373 with $90,865,532 bet on the Belmont Stakes itself. 

The 2015 Belmont Stakes, which featured American Pharoah’s successful Triple Crown run, boasted handle of $135,790,321 with $81,681,147 wagered on the third jewel.

In 2018, when Justify became the 13th Triple Crown winner, handle was $137,954,903 with $79,730,023 wagered on the Belmont Stakes. 

Excluding the 2020 Belmont Stakes, which was contested at nine furlongs as the first leg of the Triple Crown, handle averaged $98,416,407 with $50,230,988 bet on the race for non-Triple Crown years under the new race day configuration. 

Under the former non big-day concept from 2009 through 2013, average handle on Belmont Stakes Day was $86,438,946 with $49,976,130 wagered on the “Test of the Champion.”

The inaugural Belmont Stakes Racing Festival was created in 2015, tying together three race days beginning on the Thursday of Belmont Stakes week and culminating on Belmont Stakes Day. 

From 2015 through 2019, Belmont Stakes Racing Festival Thursday has averaged $9,079,847 with a high-water mark of $10,309,890 in 2017.

Compared to years 2009 through 2014, the same day averaged $6,608,287. 

Over this same time frame, Belmont Stakes Racing Festival Friday has averaged $17,918,109 with a high of $20,839,703. From 2009 through 2014, the same day averaged $10,562,201. 

So, what about the remainder of the big days on the NYRA racing calendar?

The top-five days by average daily handle over the last five years (2015-2019) are led by the Belmont Stakes Day ($113,798,889) followed by Travers Day ($49,470,410) Whitney Day ($30,340,281), Woodward Day ($28,050,290) and Jim Dandy Day ($27,481,055). 

Stars & Stripes Day, another concept that began in 2014, has grown steadily since inception when its handle was $18,829,264. Stars & Stripes Day handle has grown steadily over the years reaching $25,766,176 in 2019. Stars & Stripes Day did not take place in 2020 due to restructuring of the stakes calendar caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Average daily handle (net of partial cancellations) has also increased steadily since the introduction of the big-day concept. In 2014, the average daily handle was $8,760,208. In the years 2015 through 2019, daily handle averaged $9,644,765 and a high of $9,906,155 in 2019. For 2020, average daily handle was $11,553,727 representing an increase of $2,793,519 or 32 percent since 2014. 

Supporting these big race days along with daily overnight races are purse offerings that averaged $761,567 daily and $170 million annually over a period of five years predating 2020. The three days of the 2019 Belmont Stakes Racing Festival alone saw almost $11 million in purse money distributed.  

The results reinforce the growth of the big-day concept and is further solidified by the increase in daily average handle over this time frame. By coupling marquee days with our broadcast television strategy and robust purse offerings, more eyes are on our content than ever before and horseplayers are supporting it on a daily basis.  

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Belmont Park Press Release by NYRA Press Office

@jonathanstettin Thank you. This is a truly beautiful tribute to a racing legend. Good to hear the true story of what happened that day.

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