It’s literally the only game in town right now.
So, it’s somewhat predictable that betting on live horse racing at Belmont Park has seen a marked increase from this period last year, even though no fans are being admitted to the giant grandstand because of the COVID-19 pandemic and casinos are still closed for sports books.
NYRA announced on Monday that its opening week of the delayed, 25-day spring/summer meet generated an all-sources handle of $76,264,891. That is an 84 percent increase over the first five full days of the 2019 spring/summer meet at Belmont. Live racing resumed on Wednesday and that day’s 10-race card marked the first sporting event in New York since NYRA’s winter meet at Aqueduct was forced to end on March 15.
Fox Sports and MSG Networks are broadcasting the races. NYRA Bets is the organization’s official online wagering site, for Belmont and racetracks worldwide. But unaffiliated sportsbooks are also taking online betting action.
“The New York Racing Association thanks all the fans who tuned in to support live racing and wagered through NYRA Bets or with one of our wagering partners,” Tony Allevato, NYRA’s chief revenue officer and president of NYRA Bets said in a statement. “During this unprecedented time in horse racing, we rely completely on our digital resources and television to reach our fanbase.”
Wednesday’s all-sources handle of $10,972,254 set an opening day record at Belmont, topping the $10.7 million from 2010.
The comparable first five days of racing last year – April 26-28 and May 2 and 4, 2019 – generated an all-sources handle of $41,376,401.
“We didn’t know what to expect at the beginning, to be honest,” said Adam Burns, the sportsbook manager for BetOnline.ag. “It’s been busier than ever. People are betting on all sorts of crazy stuff they wouldn’t have…It’s tremendous for us. We’re taking more on horse racing now than we ever did and not all the tracks are open.”
The highlight of NYRA’s spring/summer meet any year, of course, is the Belmont Stakes. The 152nd running on June 20 will be different than usual. It will be the first leg of the Triple Crown instead of the last, it has been shortened to 1 1/8 miles from its marathon length of 1 1/2 miles and the purse is $1 million instead of $1.5 million.
The Belmont Stakes was initially set for this past Saturday. The Kentucky Derby will now be run as the Triple Crown’s middle leg on Sept. 5 and the Preakness, typically the middle leg, will conclude the Triple Crown on Oct. 3.
Burns estimated the take on Belmont Stakes’ betting will be “four to five times more money than it would be normally.”
There will be no fans for the Belmont Stakes, and it’s unclear when it will be considered healthy and safe to allow the fans back on site.
Burns is unsure exactly what the long-term implications will be for online gambling but suspects his industry will benefit.
“That’s a question I’ve asked myself,” Burns said. “I think, now, more people are getting used to betting online. I think people will continue to do that because it’s convenient.”
Also, on Monday, current Belmont Stakes favorite Tiz the Law of Sackatoga Stable breezed five furlongs in 1:00.53 with Manny Franco aboard.
Trainer Barclay Tagg said Tiz the Law will likely breeze one more time – at a half-mile – before the Belmont Stakes.
In 2003, the Tagg-trained Funny Cide of Sackatoga Stable won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, but the fan-favorite New York-bred gelding could not complete the Triple Crown, finishing third to Empire Maker at the rain-soaked Belmont.