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A victory by California Chrome in the Belmont Stakes Saturday would deliver horse racing its first Triple Crown winner in 36 years and give the sport a "much-needed boost, according to CBS' Maurice DeBois. The net's Michelle Miller noted the sport is "hurting," as betting at tracks since '04 "has dropped $4.2 billion, and in New York state alone, attendance is down 20%." Since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in '78, the "image of horse racing has been tainted," as scandals over "steroids and raceday medication and competition from casino gambling have left the sport reeling." California Chrome co-trainer Alan Sherman was asked if the horse will "put fans back in the stands." He responded, "I think he already has" ("Evening News," CBS, 6/4). However, NPR's Frank Deford wrote he wants to believe a Belmont win for California Chrome "would mean anything substantial for a sport that is struggling against time and culture," but that likely "is fantasy." Deford: "Even if California Chrome wins the Triple Crown, he will not, as we say about politicians, have long coattails. How many more times will he appear on a racetrack? Maybe he won't even go into a starting gate after this year, but head directly to the breeding shed. Will people go out to Suffolk Downs or Del Mar or Delaware Park to watch these magnificent animals and bet on those horses, just because they remember how this one extraordinary creature won three races over five weeks in the springtime of one year?" (NPR.com, 6/4).
ANY BOOST LIKELY TO BE SHORT LIVED: In Providence, Jim Donaldson writes under the header, "Triple Crown Would Be Great For Chrome, But Not Enough For Sport." If California Chrome is "successful, it is hoped he’ll rejuvenate interest in thoroughbred racing." He has a "decent chance at winning," but as for "rejuvenating, not so much." The "sad fact is that while a Triple Crown winner almost certainly would provide a short-term bump in interest in what is an underappreciated sport, it’s unlikely to have a long-term effect." While fans "turn out in large numbers for 'boutique' meets such as Saratoga, Del Mar and Keeneland, as well as on big race days at major tracks around the country, the interest in racing is nowhere near what it was" (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL, 6/6). In L.A., Kevin Modesti writes under the header, "California Chrome Could Bolster Horse-Racing Industry ... For Now." For many people who "count on the nation’s racing industry for their livelihoods or entertainment, it’s axiomatic that a Triple Crown could start a turnaround." But Modesti asks, "How useful would such happy publicity be to executives at U.S. racetracks -- like Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, where average daily betting had a 40 percent free-fall between 2002 and 2011 before ticking up the past two years? Would it reawaken Americans to a game that has struggled to fight off ever-increasing competition from other sports and simpler and cheaper forms of gambling?" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 6/6).
WOULD A WIN ACTUALLY BE BAD FOR SPORT? BLEACHER REPORT's Dan Levy wondered if California Chrome is here "to save horse racing or destroy it." Levy: "In other words, has horse racing been as popular as it is over the last 35 years only because most of us come back year after year just waiting for another Triple Crown winner?" Fans "still care about big events in horse racing," like the Triple Crown races and the Breeders' Cup. However, is the interest "predicated on the belief that this could finally be the year a horse wins the Triple Crown?" Ratings for the Belmont "drop in years without a Triple Crown contender, but once we get one, will we really care as much to see it again?" (BLEACHER REPORT, 6/4).
WHAT'S AT STAKE: In N.Y., Richard Sandomir reported the Belmont will be a "test of preparedness" for NYRA, which was "seized by the state two years ago after the deaths of horses at its tracks and assorted management missteps." In four of the last five Belmont Stakes, when "no horse was seeking the Triple Crown, attendance averaged 50,361." But "more than 100,000 fans" are expected for Saturday's race. NYRA President Christopher Kay "vows that the track will be ready for this onslaught, although no one will really know for sure until early Saturday evening." Sandomir noted NYRA will "add as many as 1,000 security, concessions and parimutuel workers to cope with additional spectator and bettor demands." All grandstand reserved seats, which "cost $20 to $150 each, have been sold out," as have "premium offerings like the $450 tickets for the Turf and Field Club and $375 tickets for the North Shore Terrace." But some of the 1,800 temporary bleacher seats that are "still to be built near the track’s far turn are available at $250 each, as are some of the 240 table seats under a specially rigged trackside tent near the clubhouse turn at $1,000 apiece." Meanwhile, the park itself is "dressing up, with a temporary area on the first floor being converted into the $300-a-head Champagne Room" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/4).
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig Thursday night presided over what is scheduled to be his final MLB Draft as the league’s top exec before his planned retirement in January, but he said he has not begun to heavily dwell on events such as this being the final iterations of his baseball career. “I’m not to that point yet,” he said. “I really don’t think about it in that regard. But I would say I’m so comfortable with my decision that I’ve sort of accepted this now. But I’ve still got eight or nine months left. Near the end, I think, this will be more in my mind.” The draft was held in the MLB Network studios in Secaucus, N.J., for the sixth straight year, drawing seven draft hopefuls in attendance. The event has shown slow, steady growth in prominence and fan interest in recent years, but still significantly pales compared to the massive amounts of attention paid to the NFL and NBA drafts. Selig argued the comparisons between the various sports’ drafts was unfair given the scope of college football and basketball. “Everybody wants to compare this draft to the NBA and the NFL. But remember, college kids in those sports have great publicity," he said. "College football is really big. College basketball is really big. I think we’ve come a long way, but I also think we need to do more, publicize more and do more things, because in the end, for the millions of fans of each franchise, this is the lifeline. It’s that important. I cannot stress how important this day is.” As in prior years, Selig continued to take particular joy in his slow, deliberate announcements of each upcoming team being “on ... the ... clock.” He also began the draft with a series of remarks in memory of the late Don Zimmer.
CAPTAIN CAVEMAN: Selig earlier Thursday made his first-ever visit to the MLB Fan Cave in lower Manhattan, now in its fourth year of operation. He addressed the draft prospects in town as well as the current Cave Dwellers, placing the commissioner in front of a group all 27 and younger. Selig: "It was a very good experience. l loved the kids and the questions they had. I really enjoyed myself and it was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed being around the kids."
Minor League Baseball on Thursday said the average cost for a family of four to attend a game in the affiliated minors this year is $63.55, up $1.03 from a year ago. As is typical, Triple-A carries the most expensive tickets and concessions with short season Single-A and Rookie levels the cheapest. The 1.6% increase in the cost to attend compared to ’13 is less than the current U.S. trailing rate of inflation of 2%. “There are many reasons why Minor League Baseball clubs have attracted more than 41 million fans for nine years in a row, and the affordability of experiencing a game has certainly played an integral role in bringing fans to our ballparks,” said MiLB President Pat O'Connor.