Beginner’s Guide to the Belmont Stakes

Events / Travel
Fans at the 2017 Belmont Stakes. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

The Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets is famous for being the final leg of the Triple Crown, but it’s so much more than that. From its history to fun facts, we have all of the information you need to know as we head into a huge day of racing at Belmont Park in New York.

Who: Elite 3-year-old Thoroughbreds

American Pharoah wins the 2015 Belmont. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Winning the Belmont Stakes is literally a once-in-a-lifetime chance for horses since the race is only open to 3-year-old Thoroughbreds. Let’s look at it this way: 19,664 Thoroughbreds were born in 2018, and of those, only one can be the Belmont Stakes winner. (Well, two if there’s a dead heat, but you get the point.) While the Belmont Stakes is open to both male and female horses, only three fillies have ever captured the race: Ruthless in 1867, Tanya in 1905, and Rags to Riches in 2007.

Fun fact: the Belmont Stakes is the oldest of the Triple Crown races; it was first run in 1867, while the Preakness began in 1873 and the Kentucky Derby in 1875.

What: Test of the Champion

The Belmont Stakes earned its nickname of the “Test of the Champion” honestly – at a mile and a half, it’s the longest of the Triple Crown races and the reason only 13 horses have won the Triple Crown out of 35 Thoroughbreds who have come into the Belmont with Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and Preakness Stakes victories behind them.

Fun fact: Belmont Park’s main track has the nickname of Big Sandy since it’s an unusually large track for U.S. racing and because it has more, well, sand than some other racetracks in the country.

When: Saturday, June 5

Traditionally, the Belmont Stakes is run as the third leg of the Triple Crown, three weeks after the Preakness Stakes. That’s not always the case, though: because 2020 was just weird in general, the Belmont was the first leg of the series last year for the first time in its long history.

Fun fact: the first running of the Belmont Stakes in 1867 took place on a Thursday.

Where: New York, N.Y.

Well, Long Island, really. Belmont Park is located at the corner of Queens and Nassau counties, and it’s an incredibly easy place to attend. Not only does Belmont offer bountiful parking, but you can reach the track by subway and the Long Island Railroad if you don’t feel like driving. If you plan on having a cocktail or two at the racetrack, rideshare apps are readily available as well.

Fun fact: the Belmont Park Grandstand, at 1,266 feet, is longer than the Empire State Building (1,250 feet) is tall.

Why: New York History

The very first edition of the Belmont Stakes was run at Jerome Park in the Bronx in 1867, but the race has been moved several times around New York City and its suburbs since its inception. It was held at the now-defunct Morris Park until 1905, when the race moved to the newly-constructed Belmont Park in Elmont.

Fun fact: The largest Belmont Stakes crowd was in 2004 when 120,139 fans hoped to see Smarty Jones capture the Triple Crown (he came up just short, losing in an upset to Birdstone).

What to Expect in 2021

The Belmont Stakes was closed to fans due to the pandemic in 2020, but the race is back open to fans for this year’s edition. While tickets are limited in order to ensure social distancing, they are available now, so grab yours before they’re gone! There are some new guidelines for entry into Belmont Park and the Belmont Stakes, so make sure you check those out before you head to the track.

Planning to watch at home? NBC Sports presents coverage of the final jewel of the Triple Crown begins on Friday, June 4 on NBCSN from 5-6 p.m. ET and continues Saturday, June 5 on NBCSN from 3-5 p.m. and then on NBC from 5-7 p.m. ET. Additional coverage of the Belmont Stakes includes a preview on FS2 on Friday from 6:30-7 p.m. ET and Saturday coverage of Belmont races on FS2 from 11:30-3 p.m. and 7:15-8:15 p.m ET.

Wanna Bet?

Studying the program for betting angles. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

It’s incredibly easy to bet the Belmont Stakes, even if you’re not able to attend. It’s legal in 37 states to bet from home using what’s called an “advance deposit wagering” platform – essentially an app or website that allows you to load up your account and bet from wherever you like. One piece of advice: the key word here is “advance”, so make sure to set your account up as early as possible since sometimes it takes a day to process the funds. The official wagering platform of the Belmont Stakes is NYRA Bets, so keep an eye out for promotions and sign-up deals from them as we get closer to the big race.

The team at America’s Best Racing also put our heads together to provide some Dos and Don’ts for betting online, and we even have the leading tool in the sport for figuring out how to make your bets and what they’ll cost: ABR’s Gambling Calculator, presented by 1/ST Bet.

If you’re new to betting on horse racing, welcome! We’re here to help. If you need some information on how to start, we have a post called “Betting on Horse Racing, Explained” with a focus on bettors just like you. Here’s a taste to whet your appetite:

The Basics

Win bet – A bet on a horse to finish first.

Place bet – A bet on a horse to finish first or second.

Show bet  A bet on a horse to finish in the money; third or better.

In the money – A horse that finishes first, second, or third.

Across the board – A bet on a horse to win, place, and show. If the horse wins, the bettor collects three ways; if second, two ways (place, show); and if third, one way, losing the win and place bets. It's actually three bets.

Morning line – The odds that the track handicapper predicts a horse will be to win the race when it starts.

Fun fact: the biggest payout for a $2 win bet in the Belmont Stakes came in 2002 when Sarava returned $142.50 to savvy horseplayers.

A Tradition of Traditions

Fans watch the horses race on ‘Big Sandy.’ (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

You know about mint juleps at the Kentucky Derby and the party at the Preakness, so of course the Belmont Stakes comes with its own traditions. “New York, New York” is the traditional song sung as the Belmont Stakes horses make their way to the starting gate; the tradition started in 1997. Before that, it was “Sidewalks of New York,” and in 2010 “Empire State of Mind” was performed. And as the Kentucky Derby horses run for the roses and the Preakness winner is awarded black-eyed Susans, the Belmont Stakes victor dons a blanket of white carnations before stepping into the winner’s circle. Other Belmont traditions include the presentation of the August Belmont Memorial Cup, a sterling silver bowl and lid made by Tiffany and Company.

Fun fact: the official drink of the Belmont Stakes is the Belmont Jewel: it’s a 1.5 oz. of bourbon, 2 oz. of lemonade, 1 oz. of pomegranate juice, and orange zest. Cheers!

More About the Horses

Racehorses come in many different sizes, ranging from about 900 to 1,400 pounds, and colors, including Bay, Black, Chestnut, Dark Bay or Brown, or Gray or Roan. There also has been in recent years an increase in White Thoroughbreds. Many racehorses stand out because of markings, like a white blaze or star on their heads or one or more white legs or feet. When a Thoroughbred is born, it is called a foal, which is a name for a young horse in the first year of its life. Thoroughbreds are called weanlings after they have been separated from their mothers; and a yearling refers to a male or female Thoroughbred in its second calendar year of life, which commences Jan. 1 of the year following its birth. Jan. 1 is the official birthday for all Thoroughbreds. All Thoroughbred racehorses must be registered according to the guidelines of The Jockey Club and they begin racing in the spring of their 2-year-olds season or later depending on their physical and mental development and how they train.

Fun fact: “C” is the most popular letter to start the names of Belmont Stakes winners. Twenty horses whose names start with “C” have crossed the finish line first. No horses have won whose names have started with the letters “Y” or “X”.

Life After the Races

Some of the best male and female racehorses go on to a breeding career in retirement, but only the best male racehorses become sires (fathers) and roughly 20,000 to 33,000 female Thoroughbreds are bred each year. The good news is Thoroughbred racehorses are incredibly versatile and often go on to second careers at what is called OTTBs (off-track Thoroughbreds).

Thoroughbreds are smart, competitive animals and if they’ve spent time stabled at a racetrack, which the vast majority have, they’ve seen and heard pretty much everything. Retired racehorses can go on to second careers in Dressage, Eventing, Show Jumping, Polo, etc. Each year the Retired Racehorse Project hosts the Thoroughbred Makeover, the largest Thoroughbred retraining competition in the world for recently-retired ex-racehorses. OTTBs can become pleasure horses and sometimes they just live a life of leisure, ranging from those at Old Friends in Georgetown, Ky. to others who simply get adopted by someone who followed their career or loves horses. In recent years, studies have also shown racehorses can be powerful partners for therapy, including Equine-Assisted Therapy for treating veterans with PTSD and the Square Peg Foundation for students. The Thoroughbred industry created the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, funded initially by Breeders’ Cup Ltd., The Jockey Club, and Keeneland Association. The TAA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that accredits, inspects, and awards grants to approved aftercare organizations to retrain, retire, and rehome Thoroughbreds using industry-wide funding. Since 2012, the TAA has granted more than $20.7 million to accredited aftercare organizations and 11,000 Thoroughbreds have been retrained, rehomed, or retired by accredited organizations.

For much more on this topic, visit our Horses First page.

Five Fast Facts About the Belmont Stakes

  1. Horses starting from post position 1 have won the Belmont most frequently with 24 victories; post 2 has yielded 12 winners, and post 4 has produced 10 winners. Starting the Belmont Stakes from an inside spot certainly yields results!
  2. The great Secretariat holds two records in the Belmont Stakes: the largest winning margin of 31 lengths and the fastest time for the mile-and-a-half distance of 2:24 minutes.
  3. The 2014 Belmont Stakes set a record for money wagered: $83,054,106 was bet on the third leg of the Triple Crown.
  4. Favorites win the Belmont fairly consistently: 42% (64 editions) of 152 Belmont Stakes have been won by the horseplayers’ choice.
  5. The largest Belmont Stakes field came in 1983 when 15 horses ran; two-horse fields have happened five times: in 1887, 1888, 1892, 1910 and when the legendary Man o’ War won in 1920.

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