By Earle Mack

Saratoga Race Course, often referred to as the “Graveyard of Favorites,” has always held a special place in the hearts of racing enthusiasts. This historic venue, which has witnessed countless moments of glory and heartbreak, added another illustrious chapter to its storied legacy with the hosting of the 2024 GI Belmont S. As someone who has been attending races at Saratoga since 1962 and has had the privilege of witnessing numerous Triple Crown events, Breeders’ Cup races, and other remarkable moments in horse racing history, I can unequivocally say that the atmosphere during this year’s Belmont S. was unparalleled.

The decision to move the Belmont S. to Saratoga for 2024, 2025, and perhaps 2026, necessitated by the renovation of Belmont Park, was initially met with both excitement and skepticism. There were those that thought few people would take the trip. Au contraire, the outcome exceeded all expectations, transforming a logistical challenge into a resounding success. Wow! Over 120,000 fans flocked to the Spa over four days, setting a record for attendance and generating an all-sources handle of $125,748,941–a testament to the enduring allure of horse racing and the impeccable planning by the New York Racing Association (NYRA). Kudos to Marc Holliday, David O’Rourke and the outstanding staff of NYRA. The racing community and the people of Saratoga salute you.

From the moment the gates opened, there was a palpable sense of excitement and anticipation in the air. The crowd’s enthusiasm was infectious, creating an atmosphere that was both joyful and celebratory. In all my years at Saratoga, I’ve never seen such camaraderie and happiness of the people attending. It was a scene that evoked what the artist Allan Kaprow famously termed “a happening,” an ephemeral experience that cannot be replicated, it simply happens. The vibrant energy, the cheers of the spectators, and the collective thrill of witnessing history in the making made for an unforgettable experience. It was clear that the sport of kings had found a new jewel in its crown.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this year’s Belmont S. was the perfect harmony between tradition and innovation. Saratoga, with its 154 years of rich history, provided the ideal backdrop for this prestigious event. The track was in impeccable condition, ensuring fast and fair races, and the newly showcased facilities offered modern amenities while preserving the historic charm that makes Saratoga so unique. As my dear friend Chris Meigher, CEO of Meigher Communications, aptly noted, “It was near-perfectly staged and meticulously managed, and NYRA deserves to be beaming as their conviction and diligence paid off beyond all expectations!”

Kudos are also in order to the City of Saratoga Springs and Mayor John Safford for being amazing hosts and putting on an outstanding fan festival. With some estimating a $50-$100 million economic impact, the event was a boon for the local economy as the restaurants, hotels, and all the venues rolled out their best. The entire city embraced the event with open arms, showcasing the true spirit of hospitality and making every attendee feel welcome.

As a longtime advocate for Thoroughbred racing, I was particularly pleased to see the level of engagement and enthusiasm from the fans. Horse racing has faced its share of challenges in recent years, but the 2024 Belmont Stakes at Saratoga demonstrated the sport’s enduring appeal. The fans, both old and new, were deeply invested in the races, cheering passionately for their favorites and celebrating each moment of triumph. This event was a powerful reminder of why we love this sport–the thrill of the race, the beauty of the horses, and the shared joy of the crowd.

Jayson Werth hugs Luis Saez | Sarah Andrew

The success of the Belmont S. was also a testament to the importance of leadership and vision in the racing industry. Congratulations to the connections of Dornoch (Good Magic)–owned by former MLB star and World Series champion Jayson Werth and West Paces Racing, trained by Danny Gargan, and ridden by Luis Saez–for their remarkable victory with a 17-1 longshot. Werth captured the essence of the sport, urging Dornoch to victory in the stretch run and literally jumping for joy at the finish. Their win added a captivating storyline to the event, highlighting the unpredictable and exhilarating nature of horse racing at its best.

Asked about what winning the Belmont means, Werth put it best when he said, “I would put it right up there with winning at the biggest stage. Horse racing is the most underrated sport in the world, bar none. It’s the biggest game; you’ve got the Derby, the Preakness, the Belmont. We just won the Belmont. This is as good as it gets in horse racing, this is as good as it gets in sports.”

Looking ahead, the success of the 2024 Belmont S. at Saratoga sets a high bar for future events. It reaffirms Saratoga’s status as one of the premier racing venues in the world and showcases the potential for innovative approaches in the sport. It is clear that the new Belmont and Saratoga are the epicenter of a bright future of racing in New York and our nation. As we prepare for the 2025 Belmont S. and the upcoming summer meet, I am filled with optimism and excitement for what lies ahead.

In conclusion, the 2024 Belmont S. at Saratoga was more than just a race; it was a celebration of horse racing’s rich heritage and a glimpse into its promising future. It was a momentous occasion–by all means–that brought together the best of tradition and modernity, leaving an indelible mark on everyone who attended. I am immensely proud to have been a part of this historic event and look forward to many more memorable moments at the Spa.

Here’s to the continued success of Saratoga, the new Belmont, and the enduring legacy of horse racing.

Cheers to all!

Earle Mack is NYRA’s longest-serving board member.

This article was also published by the Thoroughbred Daily News here: https://www.thoroughbreddailynews.com/letter-to-the-editor-a-happening-in-saratoga-as-good-as-it-gets-in-sports/