Summer Bird romps down the stretch to win the 2009 Belmont Stakes. (Photo courtesy Eclipse Sportswire)
Every year Thoroughbred racing fans dream of a Triple Crown winner.
No easy feat considering only 11 horses have ever achieved the distinction of being a Triple Crown winner and none since Affirmed in 1978. There is a reason that it is considered the hardest achievement in all of sports. If a horse is talented, and lucky, enough to win the Kentucky Derby they must then move on and win the Preakness Stakes just two weeks later.
Surprisingly, only 33 horses have won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes and of those 19 failed when they get to the final, and toughest, leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. The other three did not compete in the Belmont Stakes, including I’ll Have Another a year ago. The Belmont Stakes is a race where dreams are made and, more often then not, shattered.
The Belmont Stakes is the oldest of the three Triple Crown races and is actually the fourth-oldest race in the United States. This prestigious race was first run on June 19, 1867 at Jerome Racetrack in the Bronx, N.Y. at a distance of a mile and five furlongs (1 5/8 miles). The race was named after August Belmont, who was a politician in New York at the time. He was very involved in the sport of Thoroughbred racing and was a founding chairman of The Jockey Club. In 1890, the race was moved to nearby Morris Park Racecourse and was contested there until the opening of the new Belmont Park in 1905. The race has continued to be run at Belmont Park, except for 1911 and 1912 when anti-gambling legislation closed Belmont, and also from 1963 to 1967 when the race was run at Aqueduct Racetrack because Belmont Park was being renovated.
The race has also been run at several different distances throughout its long history before settling on its current distance of 1 ½ miles. It began as a 1 5/8-mile race but has also been run at distances of 1 1/8 miles, 1 ¼ miles and 1 3/8 miles. In 1926, the Belmont was first run at a distance of 1 ½ miles. The race was won by a horse named Crusader in 2:32 1/5 and has been run at the mile-and-a-half distance ever since, earning the race its nickname “The Test of Champions” because of the sheer difficulty of winning at this long distance.
There also are several interesting traditions that take place around the Belmont Stakes.
The first is that upon winning the race, the winning horse is draped in a blanket of white carnations, similar to the blanket of roses for the Kentucky Derby and the blanket of Black-Eyed Susans for the Preakness. This blanket has given the Belmont its other nickname of being the “Run for the Carnations.”
DROSSELMEYER WINS THE 2010 BELMONT STAKES
Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
Another tradition, like the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, is the playing of a song for the post parade when the horses first enter the track. “Sidewalks of New York” was the post parade song until it changed to “New York, New York” in 1996. Since then, the song continues to be the traditional song, except for in 2010 when Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” was played.
The Belmont Stakes also has its own traditional drink, the Belmont Jewel. Previously the official drink of the race had been the White Carnation but it was changed to the Belmont Breeze in 1996 and then changed once more to the Belmont Jewel in 2012, making it simpler to make and with fresher ingredients.
One of the most important traditions surrounding the Belmont Stakes is that of the August Belmont Trophy. In 1896, August Belmont Jr. commissioned Tiffany & Co. to create a silver trophy in honor of his late father, August Belmont. The trophy is 27-inches high and is 350 ounces of sterling silver. The trophy was created to become the trophy for the Belmont Stakes and originally the winning owner received the trophy for the span of a year. Now the trophy is presented ceremoniously to the winner but they do not retain possession of the trophy. Instead of getting to keep the August Belmont Trophy, the winning owner, trainer, and jockey are presented with a commemorative silver tray.
THE HISTORIC BELMONT TROPHY
Photo courtesy Eclipse Sportswire
Being the fourth-oldest race in American Thoroughbred racing helps to set the Belmont Stakes apart from all other racing in the United States. The fact also that it is the toughest test in all of the Triple Crown races helps to cement it as one of the most important races in all of Thoroughbred racing. The champions of this race are a who’s who of some of the greatest American Thoroughbreds of all time and every June the country’s top 3-year-olds aim to add their name to this prestigious list of champions.
There may not be a Triple Crown on the line, but this year’s Belmont Stakes is shaping up to be an incredible race with a full field of horses gunning to win New York’s marquee race.