Having grown up in “New Yawk” and living a good part of my early life in Queens, I’ve always been partial to the Belmont Stakes as my favorite of the Triple Crown races.
I will forever associate the Belmont with the great Secretariat and his incredible 31-length victory in 1973. Secretariat set a world record (2:24.0) for running a mile and half on dirt in becoming the ninth horse at that time to win the Triple Crown.
What sticks out in my mind is the panoramic shot on TV of the crowd giving a standing ovation for Big Red as he continued to extend the lead in the backstretch. It may be the only time in thoroughbred racing history that New Yorkers ever stood and cheered with losing tickets in their hands.
Since then only two horses (Seattle Slew and Affirmed) have won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes and none in the last 34 years. Last of three jewels, the Belmont is faced with either being the defining race in the Triple Crown or merely just another rich stakes event with nothing on the line.
This year, thankfully, race purists and Las Vegas sports books are overjoyed with I’ll Have Another going for the Triple Crown, which will surely makes the 144th edition of the Belmont a most compelling race this Saturday to bet.
Belmont doesn’t have the Twin Spires and mint juleps of the Derby or the annual opportunity the Preakness enjoys of continuing a run at the Triple Crown. But there still is plenty of tradition, even in a tough town like New York.
The Belmont Stakes is named after August Belmont who had been a leading banker and racing man of the 19th century. He was also the first president of the Jockey Club in 1867. In 1869, August Belmont took first and second money with his own Fenian and Glenelg.
The Belmont was run at Jerome Park from 1867 to 1889; at Morris Park from 1890 to 1904; at neighboring Aqueduct (when Belmont Park was being upgraded) from 1963 to 1967.
The race was not run in 1911 and 1912. The length was a mile and five furlongs from 1867 to 1873; a mile and a quarter in 1890, 1891, 1892, 1895, 1904 and 1905; a mile and a furlong in 1893 and 1894; a mile and three furlongs from 1896 to 1903 and 1906 to 1925.
The Belmont is run at the standard 126 pounds for every horse, but in 1895 and 1913 the event was competed as a handicap stakes.
There have been 29 three-year-olds eligible to win the Triple Crown coming into the Belmont Stakes. Of the 29, only 11 won all three. Since Affirmed in 1978, the horses that failed to complete the Triple Crown included Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998, Charismatic in 1999, War Emblem in 2002, Funny Cide in 2003 and Smarty Jones in 2004.
A crowd of 120,139, the largest in New York racing history, attended the 2004 running, hoping to see Smarty Jones become racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner. Instead he finished second to Birdstone, who won at 36-1 odds.
Funny Cide, a New York-bred, finished third in his 2003 Triple Crown attempt. Empire Maker (in the Empire State for those conspiracy theorists) won the Belmont.
In 2007, Rags to Riches literally lived up to the name and edged favored Curlin by a head to become the first filly to win the Belmont Stakes in 102 years and only the third ever.
The Belmont is also notorious as the breeding ground for long shots or what many of us have called “ringers.” That is mercenary horses that skip the Derby and Preakness, groomed for Belmont’s mile and a half distance that sets this race apart from all others.
The last four winners (Ruler on Ice 24-1, Drosselmeyer 13-1, Summer Bird 12-1 and Da’Tara 38-1) paid big at the betting window.
Sarava paid an incredible 70-1 in 2002. In fact, since the Lemon Drop Kid (30-1) in 1999, only five horses have won the Belmont that did NOT go off at double-digit odds. So all you handicappers out here doping out this year’s Belmont, take that nugget of history with you in making your wager.
As for me, I have a side bet on Sinatra’s New York, New York being played instead of the Sidewalks of New York. And, searching for a Schaefer’s, Knickerbocker or Rheingold to go with my Sabretts hot dog.