ELMONT, N.Y. -- The CNN satellite truck parked alongside the main track Monday morning was the first sign. The hordes of television cameramen and still photographers who showed up here in the afternoon was the second.
This Belmont Stakes could get crazy.
With undefeated Big Brown attempting to become Thoroughbred racing's 12th Triple Crown winner and with the regally bred Japanese-based colt Casino Drive standing in his way, the 140th Belmont Stakes on June 7 could smash all types of attendance records. The record crowd for Belmont Park was 120,129 in 2004 when Smarty Jones's Triple Crown attempt was thwarted by Birdstone.
"Our goal is going to be to make sure that anybody who lives in the five boroughs of New York, they're going to know what's going on June 7 at Belmont Park," said NYRA president and CEO Charles Hayward, who will be presiding over his first Triple Crown bid. "I think in the past that's probably not been the case."
Hayward said that the New York affiliation of Big Brown's connections, and the colorful nature of trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., should only enhance interest in the race.
"Dutrow's a New York guy, he's been very outspoken about his horse," Hayward said. "I think that's going to work to our advantage, and now you're going to have this mystery horse."
Hayward was referring to Casino Drive, who is only 2 for 2, but who looked very impressive winning the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont on May 10. Casino Drive is a son of Mineshaft, but his dam, Better Than Honour, has produced the last two Belmont Stakes winners, Jazil in 2006 and the filly Rags to Riches in 2007.
John Lee, NYRA's director of media relations, said Sunday was "an active day" for him and his staff.
"Maybe Smarty Jones was more immediate," Lee said, "but any time you get CNN coming out three weeks before the race it really feels like it's a big deal."
Lee said he has been told to anticipate requests from as many as 100 Japanese journalists, here to cover Casino Drive.
As of Monday, 4,000 reserved grandstand seats remained available, according to Jerry Davis, director of admissions and parking for NYRA. Davis said the available seats were on either side of the eighth pole. The ones above the eighth pole cost $40, while the ones inside the eighth pole cost $60.
Fans are asked to download a reserved-seat application from nyra.com and fax it to (516) 488-6049.
Unlike past years, NYRA will not be putting up temporary bleachers on the apron. General admission is $10 and clubhouse admission will be $20.
Bit of Whimsy skips Sheepshead Bay
The multiple graded stakes winner Bit of Whimsy will skip Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 Sheepshead Bay Handicap and point instead to the Grade 1, $400,000 Just a Game Stakes at Belmont on June 7, her connections said.
Robin Smullen, assistant to trainer Barclay Tagg, said that the faster pace scenario in the one-mile Just a Game may suit Bit of Whimsy better than the anticipated slower pace in the 1 3/8-mile Sheepshead Bay.
"She needs to have the pace in front of her a little bit to settle," Smullen said. "The distance is not a problem, it's trying to get it to set up right for her."
Smullen said that the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at 1 3/8 miles is still the year-end goal for Bit of Whimsy. Noting that the Breeders' Cup is being held at Santa Anita, Smullen said, "They run fast in California whether it's a mile or a mile and three-eighths."
Plans for Tagg's 3-year-olds
Tale of Ekati, fourth in the Kentucky Derby, is still under consideration for the Belmont Stakes, Smullen said, though he is also nominated to the Ohio Derby on May 31. He was scheduled to have his first breeze since the Derby on Tuesday.
Plans also have been made for a couple of the stable's other 3-year-olds. Big Truck, 18th in the Kentucky Derby, is being pointed to the Grade 3, $100,000 Hill Prince Stakes on the turf here June 6. Big Truck worked four furlongs in 49.53 seconds Monday morning on the dirt, but is scheduled to have his next two breezes on the grass, Smullen said.
Groomedforvictory, a New York-bred son of Victory Gallop, is being pointed to the Grade 2, $250,000 Woody Stephens at seven furlongs on Belmont Day. Groomedforvictory has won his last two starts, including the Screenland Stakes for New York-breds in which he ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.95 and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 97.
"It might be asking a little much of him, but he hasn't done anything wrong," Smullen said.
On Sunday, Groomedforvictory worked four furlongs in 47.64 over Belmont's main track.