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Belmont Stakes Information & History

Belmont Stakes

The Belmont Stakes held each year at Belmont Park Race Course, the third and final jewel of Thoroughbred horse racing's Triple Crown, is known as the "Test of the Champion." The reason for that is that the competing Thoroughbred horses are tasked with running the lung-expanding distance of 1 1/2-miles in the Belmont Stakes, a distance that none of the race horses are likely to have ever run before and may never do so again.

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, the Belmont Stakes provides the potential coronation of Thoroughbred racing's next Triple Crown winner.

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The Belmont Stakes was first run at Jerome Park in New York in 1867, making it the oldest of the three Triple Crown races. The Kentucky Derby, held at Churchill Downs Race Course, the first leg in the series, was inaugurated in 1875, while the Preakness Stakes, contested at Pimlico Race Course, was first run in 1873.

The Belmont Stakes is named in honor of August Belmont Sr., a New York politician and avid horsemen in the late 1800's. In 1890, the Belmont Stakes was moved from Jerome Park to nearby Morris Park Racecourse, where it remained until the opening of Belmont Park Racetrack in 1905.

Belmont Park

Belmont Park is a mammoth facility on Long Island in New York City that, since its inception, was designed to be a cathedral of Thoroughbred racing in North America. Belmont Park's most notable feature is its sweeping 1 1/2-mile dirt track, known as "Big Sandy," which is the only dirt track that size in the world.

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In its early history, the Belmont Stakes was run in clockwise fashion, which was in accordance to the English racing custom. In 1921, however, the race was changed to the counter-clockwise direction that today is the standard in North American Thoroughbred racing. Another interesting historical footnote of the Belmont Stakes-in 1871, the first post parade ever in the United States was conducted prior to the race.

Triple Crown series

Now, back to the distance of the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown series. Generations ago, a 1 1/2-mile dirt race was not that uncommon of a horse racing event. But racing tastes have changed. Thoroughbred horse owners and breeders, at least in North America, have shifted their emphasis away from stamina and more to quick-developing Thoroughbred race horses who possess what's called "brilliant" speed.

As a result, the distance of "The Test of the Champion" has become beyond the scope of many horses. The history of the Belmont Stakes is littered with Thoroughbred horses able to successfully navigate the shorter distances of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs Race Course and Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course, but found the 12-furlong Belmont Park run beyond their reach.

Much like the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, the Belmont Stakes has its own unique set of traditions. The race is also known as "The Run for the White Carnations" in honor of the blanket of white carnations that are draped over the winning Thoroughbred horse following the race. According to the New York Racing Association, more than 700 select carnations imported from Colombia are each glued by hand on the blanket. The process takes more than five hours to complete.

winning Thoroughbred horse

Additionally, the winning Thoroughbred horse in the Belmont Stakes is presented with the August Belmont Memorial Cup. The trophy, which is 18 inches tall and 15 inches across, was given to August Belmont in 1869 in honor of his win with Fenian. The trophy, which features a silver figure of Fenian, remained in the Belmont family until 1926, when the Belmont's presented it as a perpetual trophy. Now, the winning owner can keep the trophy until the next Belmont Stakes winner is crowned. A permanent silver miniature of the August Belmont Memorial Cup is also given to the owner, trainer and jockey of the winning race horse.

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The Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park holds a unique position in the Triple Crown series. Its significance and popularity varies greatly from year to year, depending on whether a Thoroughbred horse is making a bid for the Triple Crown. According to the New York Racing Association, 30 horses have entered the Belmont Stakes with a chance at winning the Triple Series. Of those, only 11 Thoroughbred horses were successful, the last of which was Affirmed in 1978.

The current length of time between Triple Crown winners is the longest in horse racing history. Since 1997, seven champion race horses have entered the Belmont with a chance at racing immortality but were ultimately denied.

Triple Crown

To give you an idea of how much bigger an event the Belmont Stakes is when a Triple Crown is on the line, the four biggest crowds in Belmont Stakes history have all occurred since 2002 when a Triple Crown was on the line. The all-time record attendance for the Belmont Stakes is the 120,139 that turned out in 2004 to watch Kentucky Derby-Preakness winner Smarty Jones finish second in a heart-wrenching defeat in the Belmont Stakes.

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There have been many notable achievements in the history of the Belmont Stakes. Two of those stand out and have grown to the level of being legendary.

Following the champion Thoroughbred Citation's Triple Crown win in 1948, Thoroughbred racing had gone more than two decades without another Triple Crown winner, the longest ever streak prior to the current one. Racing pundits were beginning to question whether the feat would ever be accomplished again. Then, in 1973, along came the world's most popular race horse, Secretariat.

Secretariat burst onto the national scene as a 2-year-old and continued to gain in worldwide notoriety with wins in the Kentucky Derby, the first leg of the Triple Crown, and Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown, that left the country in a horse racing frenzy.

Belmont Park Race Course

But horse racing fans had not seen anything yet. Three weeks after the Preakness Stakes and five weeks after the Kentucky Derby, in the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park Race Course, Secretariat unleashed a tour de force performance that hadn't been seen before or since.

Secretariat pulled his way to the lead down the backstretch under jockey Ron Turcotte and continued through a blistering pace around the second turn. No one had ever seen a horse go that fast that early and still win the Belmont. However, Secretariat, a race horse of unbelievable stamina, showed no signs of slowing down. He continued to draw away in the stretch before crossing the wire an unbelievable 31 lengths in front of his nearest Thoroughbred race horse competitor. Secretariat stopped the clock for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont in 2:24, a full two seconds quicker than the next fastest Belmont Stakes, and a world record that stands to this day.

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The most notable human achievement in Belmont Stakes history was undoubtedly the accomplishment of Woody Stephens in the 1980's. A trainer since the 1950's, Stephens had been based in New York for the vast majority of his career and had won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, but never the Belmont leading up to 1982. That was all about to change, and in a big way.

Conquistador Cielo

Stephens won his first Belmont that year with Conquistador Cielo, who as part of a remarkable training job had just one week earlier won the prestigious Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park. Once Stephens got a taste for winning the third leg of the Triple Crown, he certainly must have enjoyed it. The Hall of Fame trainer set out to win four more consecutive Belmont wins to give him a remarkable five straight Belmont wins, a record that is unlikely to ever be broken. Stephens' remarkable achievement of five straight Belmont wins is commemorated in a corner of the Belmont Park complex.

James G. Rowe Sr., leads all trainer in most Belmont Stakes victories with eight, all of which were achieved from1883-1913. Sam Hildreth, who trained in the first half of the 20th century, is next with seven Belmont wins. "Sunny" Jim Fitzsimmons, who was the trainer for the famed Calumet Farm during its heyday in the middle of the 20th century, won six Belmont's, which includes Triple Crown winners Gallant Fox (1930) and Omaha (1935).

Belair Stud and James R. Keene are tied for most Belmont wins among owners with six apiece. Belair Stud's wins came from 1930-1955 and Keene's came between 1879 and 1910.

Among jockeys, Hall of Famers Jim McLaughlin and Eddie Arcaro lead in wins with six apiece.

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