Look back at some of the great stories, horses, jockeys, trainers and owners associated with the Belmont Stakes.
A BELMONT FIRST
The Belmont Stakes, which dates to 1867, is named for August Belmont I, the first president of the American Jockey Club who made his fortune in the banking industry in the late 1800s. On June 19 of that year, four horses saddled at Jerome Park for the initial Belmont, then 1 5/8 miles. Ruthless, a New York-bred filly, was the winner (by a head) in 3:05, followed by DeCourcey, Rivoli and Monday. The winning trainer was A.J. Minor and the breeder was Francis Morris. In the history of the race, only 22 fillies have been entered, and only Ruthless, Tanya (1905) and Rags to Riches (2007) made it to the winner's circle.
AT GREAT LENGTH
The oldest of the three Triple Crown races, the Belmont Stakes was not always run at 1 1/2 miles. From 1867 until 1873, it was contested at 1 5/8 miles, and from 1890 through 1926, distances varied between 1 1/8 and 1 3/8 miles. But on June 7, 1926, the Belmont was run for the first time at 1 1/2 miles. Crusader, a son of Man o War, won in a time of 2:32 1/5. Espino was second and Haste finished third in the field of nine starters.
EDDIE ARCARO AT THE BELMONT
When it comes to the top jockeys in the Belmont Stakes, Eddie Arcaro added his name to the record book in 1955 when his victory aboard Nashua matched James McLaughlins mark of six winning rides. Arcaro started every race from 1938 to 1960 (except 1943 when he was serving a suspension). Arcaro also won with Whirlaway (1941), Shut Out (1942), Pavot (1945), Citation (1948) and One Count (1952), and also finished second three times and third twice. Whirlaway and Citation were Triple Crown champions.
Count Fleet won the Triple Crown in 1943, and his Belmont Stakes finish was as awe-inspiring as Secretariats in 1973. Owned by John Hertz (yes, the car-rental magnate), the Count won 16 of 21 career starts. Ridden by the legendary Johnny Longden, Count Fleet had only two rivals in the Belmont. He outran Fair Manhurst and Deseronto from the start, breaking to a sizable lead. At the top of the stretch the lead was 20 lengths, and it reached 25 lengths at the wire. Only Secretariats 31-length victory was greater. It was the Counts last race, but he did sire back-to-back Belmont winners with Counterpoint (1951) and One Count (1952).
ONE FOR THE THUMB
The spotlight of the 1986 Belmont Stakes belonged to Woody Stephens (left). The Hall of Fame trainer saddled his first Belmont winner in 1982 with Conquistador Cielo, then proceeded to win the next three Belmonts with Caveat, Swale and Creme Fraiche (1983-85). Could he make it five straight with Danzig Connection? Indeed. Ridden by Chris McCarron, Danzig Connection hounded the pace on the sloppy track for a half-mile and had the lead at the mile. At the wire he was 1 1/4 lengths up on Johns Treasure, with Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand a neck back.
The closest Belmont Stakes finishes were by a nose: Granville in 1936, Jaipur in 1962 and Victory Gallop (near) in 1998. But the most memorable finish certainly was Victory Gallops blazing duel with Real Quiet in the homestretch. Real Quiet (far), bidding for the Triple Crown, made his move to the front with four furlongs to go and coming off the turn into the stretch, jockey Kent Desormeaux had things in hand and was pulling away. But Victory Gallop, with Gary Stevens up, showed a burst of speed on the outside and ran down Real Quiet, finally catching him at the wire.
Spectacular Bid (right) won 26 of 30 races in his career, but he was denied the Triple Crown in 1979 by a safety pin. Bid was a 1-5 betting favorite, but on the morning of the race, it was discovered that a small pin had become embedded in his hoof, causing an infection. After treatment, trainer Bud Delp proclaimed his colt ready to race but Spectacular Bid clearly was not the same horse that had won the Kentucky Derby by 2 3/4 lengths and the Preakness Stakes by 5 1/2 lengths. He finished third in the Belmont behind Coastal and Golden Act.
Hall of fame jockey Julie Krone remains the only woman to win a Triple Crown race when she captured the 125th Belmont Stakes (1993) aboard Colonial Affair. Krone, who had ridden in two prior Belmonts and one Kentucky Derby, took the 14-1 longshot to the lead coming out of the final turn on the muddy track, and held on in the stretch. The race was marred when favored Prairie Bayou broke down on the backstretch and had to be destroyed.
DEEP IN THOUGHT
Of the 31 horses (not including American Pharoah in 2015) that have come to the Belmont Stakes with an opportunity to win racings Triple Crown, only 11 have been successful. The first horse to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown only to lose in New York was Pensive in 1944. (It should be noted that Burgoo King and Bold Venture won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, but were not entered in the Belmont.) Owned by Calumet Farms, trained by Ben Jones and ridden by Conn McCreary, Pensive broke from the third position in the Belmont, was fourth at the half-mile and second at the mile. He then raced to the lead and held it at a mile-and-a-quarter. But Bounding Home responded down the stretch and caught Pensive to win by a half-length. Pensive ran eight more races in his career, but never won again.
The 139th Belmont Stakes in 2007 is most memorable as Rags to Riches outdueled Preakness winner Curlin by a head. Rags to Riches became only the third filly to capture the Belmont (Ruthless in 1867 and Tanya in 1905) and first to take a Triple Crown race since Winning Colors won the Kentucky Derby in 1988. Rags to Riches recovered from a slight stumble just out of the gate. The pace was a bit slow, but at the turn for home, four of the seven 3-year-olds were on the lead. From there, it quickly became a two-horse race neck and neck in the final quarter-mile to the wire. The victory also ended Triple Crown slumps for trainer Todd Pletcher (0-for-28) and jockey John Velazquez (0-for-20).
ON THE RIDGE OF GLORY
Ron Turcotte rode back-to-back winners in the Belmont Stakes. In 1972, Turcotte and Riva Ridge won the Kentucky Derby, but the colt did not run well on muddy tracks and finished fourth in the Preakness to Bee Bee Bee after a steady rain turned the track to muck. In the Belmont, Turcotte took Riva Ridge to the lead at the first turn, led the rest of the way and coasted to a seven-length victory. The next year, Turcotte won the Triple Crown with Secretariat.
A LONGSHOT’S LONGSHOT
The biggest long shot to win the Belmont? It was in 2002 when Sarava went off at 70-1 to end the Triple Crown bid of War Emblem. War Emblem started from the No. 9 post and nearly stumbled to his knees at the start. He recovered and moved into contention entering the first turn, but found himself boxed in along the rail. Meanwhile, Sarava ridden by Edgar Prado started on the outside in the 11-horse field, avoided trouble into the turn and was a comfortable fifth entering the backstretch. With five furlongs to go, War Emblem made another move along the inside and seized the lead just before the final turn, but he couldnt hold on. Turning into the grueling stretch for home, Sarava and Medaglia dOro took control and battled to the wire, where Sarava won by a half-length. Sunday Break was third.
EMPIRE STATE OF MIND
In 2003, Empire Maker was the favorite to win the Kentucky Derby but lost by 1 3/4 lengths to Funny Cide. So when Funny Cide romped in the Preakness Stakes two weeks later, the gelding became Belmonts overwhelming favorite. But not so fast. Heavy rains left Belmont a sea of slop for race day and Funny Cide seemed to have gotten the worst of the conditions by holding the rail (where the muck was deepest) the entire way. Funny Cide broke cleanly to the early lead with Empire Maker tracking outside as they went into the backstretch. Funny Cide still led into the far turn, but jockey Jerry Bailey made his move with Empire Maker at the quarter pole. As they turned for home, Empire Maker pulled ahead, and in the final 100 yards it was Ten Most Wanted who challenged and finished second by three-quarters of a length. It was another 4 3/4 lengths back to third for Funny Cide, who instead of winning the Triple Crown was the fifth Derby-Preakness winner in seven years to come up short.
LAFFIT PINCAY’S SUCCESS
For three years, 1982-84, jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. (aboard Stop the Music, left) had the golden touch in the Belmont Stakes, winning with Conquistador Cielo, Caveat and Swale. That was sweet payback for Pincay, who rode Sham (Secretariats chief rival) in the 1973 Triple Crown races. Shooting for a fourth straight Belmont win in 1985, Pincay was contending aboard Stephans Odyssey (runner-up to Spend a Buck in the Kentucky Derby). Pincay trailed the field at the quarter- and half-mile, but then began moving along the rail and closed on the lead at a mile-and-a-quarter. Stephans Odyssey surged ahead coming into the stretch, but entrymate Creme Fraiche overtook him at the eighth pole and held on to win by a half-length. Pincay finished second again with Johns Treasure in 1986 and with Cryptoclearance in 87 to cap an unprecedented six-year run with three victories and three runners-up.
AVATAR, BEFORE 3D AND CGI
Jockey Willie Shoemaker rode four winners in the Kentucky Derby, two in the Preakness Stakes and five in the Belmont Stakes, but never won the Triple Crown. His final Belmont winner was Avatar, a longshot in 1975. Much had been written about the way Avatar had been roughed up in the Kentucky Derby, being bumped from the lead and thrown off stride by Diablo in the stretch. He finished second to Foolish Pleasure by 1 3/4 lengths, and two weeks later, Avatar was a disappointing fifth in the Preakness. So Shoemaker had a score to settle in the Belmont. Despite being sent off at 13-to-1, The Shoe had Avatar in striking distance along the backstretch and into the final turn. He took the lead from Master Derby at the top of the stretch and as Master Derby faded slightly along the rail, Foolish Pleasure was in a hard rush on the outside. This time, though, Foolish Pleasure couldn't catch Avatar, who won by a neck and paid $28.40.
EASY DOES IT
The 1989 Belmont Stakes was a measure of revenge for Easy Goer, whose victory by eight lengths deprived Sunday Silence of the Triple Crown. Sired by Alydar, trained by Shug McGaughey and ridden by Pat Day, Easy Goer was runner-up to Sunday Silence in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Day was criticized for both rides. But in the Belmont, Easy Goer reversed the final positions with an aggressive move inside the half-mile pole, and he grabbed the lead passing the three-furlong marker. Until that point, French import Le Voyageur had made a fast pace, with Sunday Silence tracking for about a mile. Sunday Silence briefly pulled even, then put a head in front near the five-sixteenths pole before Easy Goer blew past both horses. At the finish, a tiring and fading Sunday Silence was only a length ahead of Le Voyageur. Afterward, Day explained why he rode Easy Goer hard all the way to the wire: I never did put my stick down, just in case someone came running. After we got to the lead, I just wanted to keep his mind on his business."
The 109th Belmont Stakes in 1977 was a coronation celebration for Seattle Slew, who became the 10th Triple Crown winner and the first of those 10 super horses to finish the series undefeated (it was his ninth win in nine starts). In the Kentucky Derby, Seattle Slew recovered from a rough start to gain the lead in the first quarter and win going away. His Preakness victory two weeks later was marked by the fastest opening mile in that races history. That set up the challenge of the imposing Belmont for trainer Billy Turner. Even more challenging was the muddy track on Belmont day because Seattle Slew had never run in the mud. But the surface made little difference as jockey Jean Cruguet guided Slew to the lead early and maintained it, pulling away through the final quarter-mile for an easy four-length victory over Run Dusty Run and Sanhedrin. Cruguet even eased the winner a few strides from the wire as he waved to the crowd of 70,229.