NEW YORK — If American Pharoah becomes the first Triple Crown champion in 37 years, it won’t be before a record-setting crowd.
A sellout crowd of 90,000 was streaming into Belmont Park early Saturday. Track officials put an attendance cap on this year’s event after traffic, troubled trains and sold-out concession stands created chaos last year.
So far, the crowd was under control.
“The Triple Crown — that’s a huge opportunity to see history,” said Megan Allen of Garden City, who said she lives two miles from the racetrack but took the train in order to avoid traffic on the roads.
The 102,000 spectators who came to see California Chrome’s triple try suffered through long lines at betting windows and bathrooms. Concession stands ran out of refreshments and many people spent hours jockeying for space on commuter trains or in jammed parking lots going home.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority spent $4 million and the New York Racing Association added $1 million to renovate the Belmont Park Long Island Rail Road station and an access ramp leading to the racetrack following loud complaints a year ago about the long delays in getting an estimated 36,000 passengers onto trains after the race.
Thousands of spectators exited crowded LIRR trains on Saturday, and highways and parking lots were filling up quickly.
“So far so good,” LIRR President Patrick Nowakowski said as he stood watch at the newly renovated station. “The challenge will be 7 o’clock tonight,” he added.
The racing association hired former FBI official George Venizelos as head of security and booked the Goo Goo Dolls to perform a post-race concert in an effort to ease the crunch of 90,000 people attempting to leave all at once.
No tickets were sold Saturday, and signs at the front of the park told fans there were none left. Todd Kennedy, of Bayville, N.Y., said he bought his tickets in February.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever been to Belmont for the Stakes and I’ve always wanted to do it since I was a young man,” he said. “Hopefully they have it under control; I don’t have any concerns.”
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