Monumental Moments In Belmont Stakes History
Belmont Park, a 430-acre race track facility in Elmont, New York, first opened in May 1905. Continuous racing meets have opened here annually since then except for when the track was closed in 1963 for remodeling until 1968 when it reopened. Belmont’s main track, nicknamed Big Sandy by race fans, stretches out in a 1.5 mile oval making it the longest horse racing track in North America. Immediately inside the dirt track is the Widener Turf Track at 1-5/16 miles. The Widener Track encircles the Inner Turf Track which is 1-3/16 miles.
Belmont Park is home to the world-famous Belmont Stakes, third leg of the American Horse Racing Triple Crown and nicknamed “Test of Champions” because of its length of 1-1/2 miles. The track is known as The Championship Track because every champion in racing history since the early 20th century has raced at Belmont Park.
With so much fame and history at this track, there are certain historical moments in Belmont’s past that bear remembrance. Match races have been run here, first races and last races have been run here, records have been set – some of which still stand today – and legendary moments have occurred here.
Secretariat's Triple Crown Win
In 1973 the big chestnut colt Secretariat enjoyed celebrity status. During the Triple Crown he was featured on the covers of Time, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated. After annihilating his competition in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, four horses met Secretariat in the Belmont Stakes to try to spoil his Triple Crown likelihood. It had been 25 years since a Triple Crown champion had been crowned. In Secretariat’s biography, his groom Eddie Sweat recalled having a dream the night before the Belmont Stakes. In his dream the colt was so far in front of his competition in the race that the only way he could lose was to fall. He did just that in Eddie’s dream.
On race day, over 67,000 fans watched Secretariat and Sham set a fast early pace. Halfway into the race, Sham tired and Secretariat continued alone around the final turn and into the homestretch. As he neared the wire, he was so far in front of the other horses that the only way he could lose was to fall. Unlike Eddie’s dream, however, Secretariat crossed the wire 31 lengths in front of the second place horse and shattered the record for 1-1/2 miles by two seconds finishing the race in 2:24. That record still stands today. Secretariat was crowned the 9th winner of the Triple Crown and the first since 1948.
Secretariat's Stunning Belmont Win
Affirmed Wins the Triple Crown
The 1970s yielded three Triple Crown winners – Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. Affirmed was the 11th and most recent winner of the Triple Crown. In 1978, Affirmed and Alydar had a classic rivalry. They met 10 times, three of which were in the Triple Crown races, with Affirmed winning seven of those races.
Alydar was the favorite for the Kentucky Derby with Affirmed a close second favorite, but Affirmed held off Alydar to win by 1 1/2 lengths. In the Preakness Affirmed again held off Alydar to win by a neck. The Belmont Stakes, however, was their best effort as the two rivals raced neck and neck for the final seven furlongs (7/8 of a mile) posting the fastest final mile time in Belmont Stakes history. Affirmed again held off Alydar, this time by a nose, to win the Belmont and the Triple Crown.
Another of Affirmed’s spectacular wins came at Belmont Park when he defeated Spectacular Bid in 1979 in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. It would be Affirmed’s final race, and for Spectacular Bid it was his final defeat as he ran undefeated in 1980.
Affirmed and Alydar Battle in the 1978 Belmont
In 1999, the big chestnut colt overcame 32-1 odds in the Kentucky Derby to win. He continued winning two weeks later in the Preakness Stakes, and with a definite shot at becoming the 12th Triple Crown champion was a heavy favorite for the Belmont Stakes. Charismatic's story was even more... well, charismatic, because of his jockey's come-back story. Chris Antley had overcome his drug addiction to come back to racing and was given the chance of a lifetime with his ride on Charismatic. In the Belmont Stakes, on the homestretch, Charismatic's Triple Crown bid came to a disastrous end as the colt broke down. He still finished third, many race fans believing that had he not broken down he would indeed have captured the coveted title of Triple Crown champion. That evening and the next day, newspapers carried the heart-wrenching photo of jockey Chris Antley leaping from the colt's back to hold his broken leg so that he would not damage it further. This single act of humanity may have saved the colt's life.
Real Quiet's Real Miss
Real Quiet is a true rags to riches story. He was nicknamed "The Fish" by his trainer due to his slender build, and was sold at auction as a yearling due to his crooked knees. He wore casts as a foal in an attempt to straighten his legs, and he was involved in a trailer accident that could have killed him. Still, he overcame all of these adversities to be the horse who has come closest to winning the Triple Crown since 1978 when Affirmed won. Real Quiet won the Kentucky Derby and went on to win the Preakness by a wide margin. He was naturally the favorite in the Belmont Stakes, but tired in the homestretch and lost to Victory Gallop by a nose. His jockey was criticized, the critics saying he ran him too early and caused the horse to tire too early. Real Quiet was named 1998 Horse of the Year, had a successful four year old year in 1999 and was retired to stud.
Real Quiet Misses the Triple Crown
Third Filly Ever to Win Belmont Stakes
Rags to Riches raced the boys in 2007 and beat out favorite Curlin to win the Belmont. She was first filly to do so in 102 years and only the third filly to ever win the Belmont Stakes. The filly's breeding is nothing if not rich. She is the daughter of A.P. Indy, 1992 Horse of the Year, who in turn is son of Seattle Slew and grandson of Secretariat. Her dam is from the Canadian Hall of Fame inductee and two-time North American Horse of the Year, Deputy Minister, and Rags to Riches is half-sister of the 2006 Belmont Stakes winner Jazil. With that incredible breeding, her Belmont win came as a surprise only because of her gender.
Rags to Riches
In the first-floor lobby of the clubhouse a display named Woody’s Corner commemorates trainer Woody Stephens and his five consecutive Belmont Stakes wins from 1982 to 1986.
Woody began his Belmont streak with Conquistador Cielo’s win, a feat not only because of the distance of the race but also because Conquistador Cielo had just run in the Metropolitan Handicap six days before shattering the stakes record for that race set in 1973. He won the Belmont, defeating Derby winner Gato Del Sol by 14 lengths.
In 1983, Caveat ran third in the Kentucky Derby and came back to win the Belmont Stakes against a record 15-horse field. He defeated Derby winner Sunny’s Halo but also strained a ligament and was retired.
Swale would be Woody Stephens’ third straight Belmont winner. The horse won the Kentucky Derby, failed in the Preakness but then won the Belmont Stakes. Eight days after that win Swale died of a massive heart attack.
Crème Fraiche was, in 1985, the first gelding to win the Belmont Stakes. He went to a successful racing career before retiring at age six to a beautiful farm and lots of visits from fans who brought him his favorite treat, mints.
Woody’s fifth straight and last Belmont Stakes winner was Danzig Connection. The Belmont was this horse’s greatest win.
Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones drew a record-breaking crowd of 120,139 for his Belmont Stakes in 2004. It was the largest race crowd in New York racing history. Unfortunately, Smarty Jones tired in the grueling mile and half race and placed second behind Birdstone, denying race fans a Triple Crown winner yet again.
Belmont Park is considered one of America’s elite tracks. With 100+ years of racing and history tied together in one of America’s most historical states, Belmont Park will continue to be provide great races to fans and bring history-making moments to the world of horse racing.
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