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It Was an All-Around Uplifting Day

Longshot: Velazquez bounces back, and so do the fans and the handle.

June 08, 1997|From Associated Press

On an uplifting day for thoroughbred racing, a jockey, the crowd and the handle all rose on Saturday.

John Velazquez, despite being thrown from his mount in the race preceding the Belmont Stakes, was able to return to ride longshot Irish Silence to a fifth-place finish in the final leg of the Triple Crown.

Velazquez, the jockey aboard Labeeb in the $200,000 Manhattan, was tossed by his horse as the field rounded the final turn of the 1 1/8-mile race on the inner turf course.

Velazquez went down and it appeared a horse ran over him, but the rider was able to walk to the track ambulance, and stewards cleared him to ride.

It was Velazquez's third Belmont. He finished seventh aboard Avie's Flag in 1995 and eighth aboard Jamie's First Punch in 1996.

Velazquez was not the only one to bounce back. Three years ago, the Belmont Stakes drew a record-low crowd of 37,171 to watch Tabasco Cat beat Go For Gin.

But when there's a Triple Crown on the line, the fans do show up.

On Saturday, 70,682 came out to watch Silver Charm's failed bid to become the 12th Triple Crown winner--the third-largest in Belmont Stakes history.

The record is 82,694, set in 1971, when Canonero II failed in his Triple Crown chance.

The second-largest crowd was in 1977, when 71,026 turned out to watch Seattle Slew win the Triple Crown.

A year later, when Affirmed won the 1978 Triple Crown, a crowd of 65,417 showed up.

Before Saturday, a Triple Crown was on the line four times--Spectacular Bid (1979); Pleasant Colony (1981); Alysheba (1987) and Sunday Silence (1989). And the crowds? 58,987 in 1979; 61,200 in 1981; 64,772 in 1987 and 64,959 in 1989.

In the 1990s, the average Belmont Stakes day attendance--before Saturday's race--was 45,399.

Saturday's handle also beat an old mark. The total of $46,719,629.72 set a New York state record, surpassing the mark of $40,909,598 set on Breeders' Cup day in 1995. The largest previous Belmont Stakes day handle was $38,712,984 set last year.

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