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Banner day at Belmont in terms of fans, handle

ELMONT, N.Y. — ELMONT, N.Y. - The New York Racing Association announced new records for attendance and handle yesterday at the 136th Belmont Stakes.

Despite a forecast for inclement weather, 120,139 flooded to Belmont Park to watch Smarty Jones' bid for the Triple Crown be foiled by long shot Birdstone, shattering the previous mark of 103,222 two years ago when War Emblem was denied after stumbling out of the gate.

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The result was an all-time on-track handle for any New York track when $14,461,402 was risked on a 13-race program. That was approximately $1.3 million better than the former record set during the 2001 Breeders' Cup Championships.

The total commingled handle also produced a new high with $110,994,890, more than $12 million more than wagered on the 2001 Breeders' Cup and more than $20 million above the previous Belmont Stakes day record.

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"New York fans showed they are the best in the nation," said Barry Schwartz, NYRA chairman. "The enthusiasm of this crowd was spectacular."

The on-track handle for the Belmont was another record at $4,331,463, as was the overall handle of $63,671,706.

The stragglers

There were no other serious challengers to the top two with a second Nick Zito trainee, Royal Assault - winner of the Sir Barton Stakes on Preakness Day - taking third, nine lengths behind Birdstone.

Purge and Rock Hard Ten were used hard while challenging Smarty Jones for the first mile of the 1 1/2 -mile race, finishing last and fifth, respectively. Eddington ran evenly to finish fourth.

Pat Day, who rode Royal Assault, said his mount was "real aggressive" despite dropping back a bit in mid-race before picking up the pace. "He was running, and he kept running to the end."

Eddington's trainer, Mark Hennig, said the strategy was changed to keep his horse closer to the lead because "we felt the only way we could beat Smarty Jones was to bring the race at him. And look what happened. The winner came from out of it."

Rock Hard Ten was again fractious at the gate but was blindfolded and then went in.

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"He was around at most of the calls," trainer Jason Orman said, "but I think he could have been rated better going a mile and a half. I think we might have been too worried about Smarty Jones and not worried enough about everybody else."

Jockey Alex Solis said Rock Hard Ten simply tired.

'Bear' makes ruckus

Bear Fan shattered the track record for 6 1/2 furlongs in the Grade II Vagrancy by running a blazing 1 minute, 14.46 seconds. The previous mark of 1:14.51 was set by Collide in October of 1997.

The 5-year-old daughter of Pine Bluff has won four straight and is 8-for-12 lifetime.

Still cashing in

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In his first defeat, Smarty Jones earned $200,000 for finishing second and remained fourth on the all-time list of North American thoroughbred earners. A victory - and subsequent $5 million Visa bonus - would have pushed him into the lead.

Smarty Jones has a bankroll of $7,613,155 and trails Cigar, Skip Away and Fantastic Light.

Belmont blues

Smarty Jones is the 10th horse since the last Triple Crown winner (Affirmed in 1978) to enter the Belmont with a shot at the Triple Crown only to fall short (Fin-LB denotes Belmont finish and lengths behind the Belmont winner):

Year Horse Fin-LB Winner

1979 Spectacular Bid 3rd-3 1/4 Coastal

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1981 Pleasant Colony 3rd-4 Summing

1987 Alysheba 4th-14 Bet Twice*

1989 Sunday Silence 2nd-8 Easy Goer*

1997 Silver Charm 2nd- 3/4 Touch Gold

1998 Real Quiet 2nd-nose Victory Gallop*

1999 Charismatic 3rd-1 3/4 Lemon Drop Kid

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2002 War Emblem 8th-19 3/4 Sarava

2003 Funny Cide 3rd-5 Empire Maker

2004 Smarty Jones 2nd-1 Birdstone

*-Runner-up in Derby, Preakness


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