Winning the Belmont Stakes: Graveyard of Champions

Many champion horses have turned wooden in the Belmont Stakes.
Many champion horses have turned wooden in the Belmont Stakes. | Source

I'll Have Another, 2012's Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes champion, has a date with destiny on June 9, when he becomes the twelfth Thoroughbred since Spectacular Bid in 1979 to attempt to become America's twelfth ever Triple Crown Champion.

Before the 'Bid's attempt, ten others fell by the wayside, dating back to Burgoo King (1932), after winning the Derby and the Preakness. (Only Burgoo King and Bold Venture were not entered in the Belmont.)

Triple Crown Failures

The number of horses who have been pretenders to the next American Triple Crown throne has grown steadily since 1979. Not only pretenders, but "sure things" have failured to capture the third leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, after winning the first two events. At 1-1/2 miles, the Belmont Stakes is known as "The Test of A Champion", but it has become a visible graveyard of champions in recent years.

Wooden legs in the Belmont have doomed such great runners as Smarty Jones (2004) and Big Brown (2008), both undefeated entering the marathon at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.

Pretenders and Sure Things Fail

In 2003, Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide went to Belmont with a contingent of owners from ordinary places that were making the most of their gelding's party. But it rained on Belmont day, and Funny Cide had no humor. He went third behind Empire Maker, who was supposed to have been the season's hot ticket to capture the twelfth Triple Crown championship -- thus his name.

In 2004, a little guy by the name of Smarty Jones became tremendously popular after his storming Kentucky Derby win in rainy conditions. Only Seattle Slew before him had entered the Derby unbeaten and left the same way to go on to a Triple Crown championship (1977).

But in the Belmont, Smarty insisted on an early speed duel with Eddington and Rock Hard Ten. By the time he had pushed into his third and fourth gears in the lane and leaped to a huge lead with the audience screaming and chanting, Smarty had gassed himself. He couldn't hold on, and a little 900-pound-plus steam engine named Birdstone, jockeyed by Edgar Prado, ran him down just a length before the wire. The collective gasp in the stands relayed the crowd's shock.

Smarty's jockey, first-time Belmont contender Stewart Elliott, seemed non-chalant about the Triple Crown loss. He dismounted, went to weigh-out, and scrambled off to the next race of the day, in which he was due to ride. His brief statement left the nation wondering why he had let Smarty run so hard so early, then bolt for the wire way too soon. And why was Elliott riding in the next race of the day? Wasn't he expecting to enter the winner's circle for endless interviews?

In 2002, War Emblem, one of the most stunning-looking Thoroughbreds ever to race, took the Derby and Preakness and headed for Belmont the clear favorite. But he stumbled coming out of the gate.

And Prado was riding his winning closer, Sarava, on Belmont day. War Emblem finished eighth.

In 1999, Real Quiet got to the wire even closer as the second place finisher than Smarty Jones eventually did after him. With Kent Desormeaux in the saddle, Real Quiet geared to the wire a little too quietly and was nosed out of the twelfth Triple Crown by appropriately named Victory Gallop.

Biggest Pretender Big Brown

Big Brown, a big handsome light bay who had connections connected to the other big brown, UPS, arrived in New York as the sure thing in 2008, according to his irrepressible trainer, Richard Dutrow Jr.

And, indeed, the undefeated Big Brown had loomed large, big as a train in the Florida Derby, larger than life in the Kentucky Derby, and onward-marching through the Preakness.

Controversy swirled around the entire Thoroughbred industry after the 2008 Run for the Roses because a game filly in the race named Eight Belles chased Big Brown through the lane, placed second easily, then collapsed past the wire on two broken front ankles and died on the Derby track. It was the most hushed moment in Derby history.

Perhaps Big Brown was still thinking of the brave filly as he entered the Belmont gate with the twelfth ever Triple Crown on the line. Shortly after the break, Big Brown loosened a shoe and fought Desormeaux in the saddle.

Desormeaux managed to get the bay straightened into a striking position, but when he asked Big Brown for homestretch run, the bay smugly refused, and he finished an astounding last. "I had no horse," Desormeaux said after the race.

Big Brown's mind was somewhere else on Belmont day. A calm, but visibly frustrated Dutrow Jr. stood in shed row, staring back at his Triple Crown contender and wondering what might have been on a sunny day at the races.

In 1999, the unfortunate Charismatic broke down in the Belmont Stakes yards before he might have become the twelfth Triple Crown winner. His fracture healed and he was sent to stud duty.

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Assault, 1946 American Triple Crown Champion
Assault, 1946 American Triple Crown Champion | Source

The White Carnations Graveyard 21

Kentucky Derby--Preakness Stakes winners in a single year who lost in the Belmont Stakes (1979 to present) include:

  • Spectacular Bid, 1979 -- 3rd to (winner) Coastal
    Pleasant Colony, 1981 -- 3rd to Summing
    Alysheba, 1987 -- 4th to Bet Twice
    Sunday Silence, 1989 -- 2nd to Easy Goer
    Silver Charm, 1997 -- 2nd to Touch Gold
    Real Quiet, 1998 -- 2nd to Victory Gallop
    Charismatic, 1999 -- 3rd to Lemon Drop Kid
    War Emblem, 2002 -- 8th to Sarava
    Funny Cide, 2003 -- 3rd to Empire Maker
    Smarty Jones, 2004 -- 2nd to Birdstone
    Big Brown, 2008 -- last to Da' Tara

From 1932 through 1976, these Thoroughbreds won the first two races of the Triple Crown, only to miss out at the Belmont Stakes:

  • Burgoo King, 1932 -- not entered
    Bold Venture, 1936 -- not entered
    Pensive, 1944 -- 2nd to Bounding Home
    Tim Tam, 1958 -- 2nd to Cavan
    Carry Back, 1961 -- 7th to Sherluck
    Northern Dancer, 1964 -- 3rd to Quadrangle
    Kauai King, 1966 -- 4th to Amberoid
    Forward Pass, 1968 -- 2nd to Stage Door Johnny
    Majestic Prince, 1969 -- 2nd to Arts and Letters
    Canonero II, 1971 -- 4th to Pass Catcher

Forward Pass was moved to first place in the 1968 Kentucky Derby when winner Dancer's Image was disqualified for failing a mandatory post-race drug test. The event marked the only time in Derby history since its 1875 beginning that a disqualification occurred.

I'll Have Another's Gig on June 9, 2012

The historic Thoroughbred winners of the American Triple Crown, eleven all time, are here:

  • 1978 -- Affirmed
    1977 -- Seattle Slew
    1973 -- Secretariat
    1948 -- Citation
    1946 -- Assault
    1943 -- Count Fleet
    1941 -- Whirlaway
    1937 -- War Admiral (Man o' War's son)
    1935 -- Omaha (Gallant Fox's son)
    1930 -- Gallant Fox
    1919 -- Sir Barton

Will I'll Have Another join the ranks of Triple Crown pretenders and failed sure things when the chestnut colt takes the Belmont Stakes track on June 9?

Or will he prevail to have another? (win) ? and change the white carnations of the Belmont Stakes graveyard to a Triple Crown champion's garland of victory??

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Comments 2 comments

teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

I missed the races this year and your recount of them and the history helps me to catch up on the events. I just watched Secretariat, the movie, again for the fourth time last weekend.


Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbsbitsnpieces 4 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA Author

@teaches12345...Nice to hear from you again, and I'm glad this Hub had some value for you!

We might all miss the Belmont this year if racetrack maintenance personnel who are threatening to strike get their way. Hopefully they'll choose the sensible route and wait a couple days so I'll Have Another can get his shot at the Triple Crown.

With the first Triple Crown title in 34 years on the line, more than 100,000 people will show up at Belmont for this year's race.

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    Barbara Anne Helberg (Barbsbitsnpieces)170 Followers
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    Barbara Anne Helberg is a Fiction freelancer, Internet writer, WordPress blogger, former Journalist, and a Famous Writers School graduate.



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