Secretariat's 31-length victory is one of the Belmont Stakes' most famous records. (Photos by Horsephotos)
Capturing the Triple Crown would be quite an accomplishment in a race rich in history. We’ve waited more than three decades to see a horse achieve the elusive feat of winning all three races. And it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that he can do it, despite the longstanding pessimism that surrounds the Triple Crown.
While the Triple Crown will surely be captured again, if not by California Chrome then by another horse, there are some accolades and accomplishments in the Belmont Stakes that probably will never be duplicated in the sport.
1. Secretariat’s Belmont
Secretariat’s victory in the 1973 Belmont Stakes is a singular event in the sport of horse racing. His final time of 2:24 flat was fully two seconds faster than the previous record for the1 ½-mile race and established a new world record. No horse has ever come close to it and it’s very likely no horse ever will. Andrew Beyer calculates that the Beyer Speed Figure for the race would have been 139, the highest number he has ever given to any horse in any race. The margin of victory was a record as well. The 31-length gap between Secretariat and the runner-up shattered the previous record of 25 lengths set by Count Fleet in 1943. Both the time and the margin are records that probably will never be broken — not just because of Secretariat’s greatness, but also because there are fewer and fewer races run at 1 ½ miles on dirt! The opportunities to beat that time are few and far between. However, a high percentage of the best 3-year-olds tend to run every year in the Belmont Stakes. If there was a horse who could beat Secretariat’s time, that horse would have the chance in the Belmont.
SECRETARIAT'S BELMONT STAKES
2. Woody Stephens’ Belmont streak
Trainer Woody Stephens won the Belmont Stakes every year from 1982 through 1986. He won with Conquistador Cielo (1982), Caveat (1983), Swale (1984), Creme Fraiche (1985), and Danzig Connection (1986). The only trainer to ever come close to this was D. Wayne Lukas’s three straight wins in the 1990s. Woody Stephens’s record is made all the more notable by the fact that only one of his five straight winners was the favorite in the race! His secret? Only one of the five winners, 1984 Derby winner Swale, ran in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Of the other four only Caveat – third in the Kentucky Derby - previously ran in a Triple Crown race at all. Stephens targeted the Belmont and brought his horses to the race fresh, and it paid off.
STEPHENS LEADS SWALE INTO THE BELMONT WINNER'S CIRCLE
3. Seattle Slew’s undefeated streak to the Triple Crown
When Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown in 1977 he was the first and only horse to win the Triple Crown with an undefeated record. Slew was entered in another race that year after winning the Belmont, the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park. He lost to J. O. Tobin, a horse he defeated soundly in the Preakness. Seattle Slew got some time off after that loss to rest and recuperate. He came back in 1978 to race as a 4-year-old. He faced off later that year against the 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed, the first time (and probably last time, another feat that will likely never be matched) two Triple Crown winners raced against each other, in the Marlboro Cup at Belmont. The elder Seattle Slew beat Affirmed by three lengths and was less than a second off of beating another Belmont record set by Secretariat for 1 ⅛ miles. One thing about Slew’s undefeated streak to the Triple Crown - it can never be broken, only tied!
THE 1977 BELMONT STAKES