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The Belmont Jewel: Belmont Stakes keeps changing its official drink

The Belmont Jewel is the official drink of

The Belmont Jewel is the official drink of the Belmont Stakes. Credit: Dreamstime

The Mint Julep has been the official drink of the Kentucky Derby since 1938.

For more than 40 years the Black-Eyed Susan has been the beverage of choice at the Preakness.

But what about the Belmont Stakes?

Well, that's a different story.

In the 147 years of the Elmont race, there have been several official drinks. Since 2011 it has been the Belmont Jewel.

Centerplate, the hospitality company that will provide food and beverages to the 90,000 fans expected Saturday at Belmont Park to watch American Pharoah try to capture the Triple Crown, is hoping to sell many thousands of the drink, along with 7,200 commemorative glasses.

Although it's a refreshing combination of bourbon, lemonade and pomegranate juice over ice, it is decidedly not a drink long distilled in the same tradition as the Mint Julep. Nor does it have the same name recognition as the Black-Eyed Susan.

The reason? The official drink has changed. Several times.

Before the Belmont Jewel it was the Belmont Breeze.

Before that it was the White Carnation.

And very briefly, according to the former general manager of the food and drink concession at Belmont Park until 1975, it was a drink called the Big Apple.

Why so many drinks?

No one seems to have a good answer to that.

Frank Tynan, general manager for five years for Harry M. Stevens Inc., then-concessionaire for the track, said that New York racing officials for some time "sort of pooh-pooh-ed" having an official drink, unlike their brethren at Churchill Downs or Pimlico.

But in 1975, Tynan was quoted in a New York Times article as saying that Belmont was working on developing an official drink for the next year that would be called the Big Apple. Tynan, 81 and now living in Saratoga Springs, said he retired that year. But he still has a commemorative Big Apple glass from 1976. "I'm pretty sure they used it for one year at least," he said.

He can't quite remember what was in the drink. "Fruit juice, an apple liqueur and rum, I think," he said.

Whatever it was, it eventually was supplanted by the White Carnation, another drink lost in the alcohol fumes of time.

A combination of vodka, peach schnapps, orange juice, soda water and cream, the White Carnation -- named after the blanket of carnations in which the winning Belmont Stakes horse is draped -- apparently never was a real winner with racing fans.

Or with Dale DeGroff, mixologist and author of "The Essential Cocktail" and "The Craft of the Cocktail."

"I didn't like the looks of the recipe," DeGroff said.

So in 1997, when he was head bartender at The Rainbow Room, he invented the Belmont Breeze, which replaced the drooping White Carnation as official drink. Believing that a track drink should be whiskey-based, he made what he called "an old-fashioned whiskey punch, which has mint as a garnish."

Different recipes for the Breeze abound, although ones on DeGroff's website,, include a combination of bourbon or rye whiskey, sherry, lemon juice, orange juice, pimento bitters, fresh mint and orange zest.

But, as part of an overall modernizing and "refresher," a Centerplate spokesman said, the Breeze was replaced by the Jewel -- a reference to the Belmont Stakes as the third jewel in the Triple Crown. Easier to make both at home and on a grand scale at the track, the drink was "more fan-friendly," the spokesman said.

Whether it will be embraced as part of the track tradition is unclear.

Chris Morris, master distiller for Woodford Reserve and Old Forester Kentucky Bourbon, the official bourbon served at the Derby, said the Mint Julep's connection to horse racing goes back to the earliest settlers in Kentucky.

Kentucky farmers, many of them from Virginia and Maryland, brought with them their love of making whiskey and running horses, and both would come together at county fairs, he said. Although not officially adopted until 1938, the Mint Julep -- a combination of bourbon, mint and sugar over crushed ice -- had long been "part of legend and folklore" in Kentucky, with fierce debates about how best to make the drink raging for decades, Morris said.

The history of the Black-Eyed Susan, the official drink of the Preakness since 1973, is a little more complicated. Although the name has remained the same over the decades, the drink itself has changed several times. The initial 1973 mix was "a base of rum and vodka, splashed with orange and pineapple juices," according to The Baltimore Sun.

Chris Doyle, brand manager for Finlandia Vodka, the official vodka for the Black-Eyed Susan, said at one point it contained bourbon. "The only thing that didn't change was the color, orange and yellow," he said.

Since Finlandia has been sponsor for the past three years, the recipe now includes vodka, St. Germain liqueur, pineapple juice, orange juice and a squeeze of fresh lime. Doyle said the drink has been successful at the track and has been picking up momentum at bars in Annapolis and Baltimore before the Preakness as well.

"I think the name people know, and having consistency is only going to help," Doyle said.

Morris also said consistency was key if the Jewel was ever going to have the cachet of the Mint Julep.

"Any tradition has to start somewhere," he said. "Once you start it, you've got to stick with it to make it a tradition."

New York Sports