Triple Crown fever spreads to Pittsburgh horse race fans

Empty seats reflected disappointed fans skipping the 2012 Belmont Stakes celebrations at The Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Washington, Pa.

I’ll Have Another was a Triple Crown hopeful before he was scratched from the Belmont the day before the race with an injury.

“We really had plans for it,” Meadows director of racing Kevin Decker said. “Of course our fans were disappointed and it hurt us, I’m not gonna lie.”

Horse racing fans are “itching” for a Triple Crown winner, Mr. Decker said, and this year’s candidate has brought out even the most casual of fans.

The Meadows Racetrack and Casino has been preparing for the thousands expected to flood its track and betting sites for Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. For the Kentucky Derby, the Meadows saw more than 3,000 patrons at all of its locations.

This year, Triple Crown contender California Chrome is entering Saturday’s race with the possibility of ending a decades-long drought. The last Triple Crown winner was Affirmed in 1978. The increased stakes, Mr. Decker said, will likely bring a “Derby-like turnout” to witness the televised race out of Elmont, N.Y.

“People want to witness history possibly being made,” Mr. Decker said. “[California Chrome’s] story is one anyone can relate to. People relish that and root for that story.”

Along with increased interest in a possible Triple Crown winner come increased bets, Mr. Decker said, which is why the company is allowing advanced bets at all three of its locations – the track in Washington and off track betting sites in New Castle and Harmar – all day today until closing. It is also adding tellers.

At the Harmar location on Thursday, staff was setting up outdoor tents. The indoor and outdoor VIP rooms, which are usually available for reservations up until the day before race days, were booked weeks ago after California Chrome won the Preakness Stakes.

There will also be 13 live races at the track, with the Belmont Stakes broadcast on a Jumbotron atop the tote board.

Brian Croissant, 56, a regular Meadows patron, has followed “all the big races” for years. All his bets will be placed today, he said, before the “huge crowds swarm in” Saturday afternoon. While he is likely to use Chrome as part of his bet, he wants to “include others in the package,” he said.

“It pumps up the pool when you have more people betting,” Mr. Croissant said. “While I think [California Chrome] has a good chance and the sport definitely needs it, there’s also a huge opportunity to make some money.”

Clarece Polke:

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