Belmont Stakes History

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Belmont Stakes History

Belmont Stakes History

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Last updated: June 7, 2024

The History of the Belmont Stakes

The Belmont Stakes is the oldest and longest of the three Triple Crown events. Inaugurated on June 19, 1867 at Jerome Park, the Belmont was later run at Morris Park and then moved to Belmont Park when the latter opened in 1905. Aqueduct served as a substitute host from 1963-67 when the Belmont Park stands were being rebuilt.

The Belmont has been run every year except in 1911-12, when racing was temporarily banned in New York. Run at various distances through the mid-1920s, the current distance of 1 1/2 miles, one lap around Belmont’s sweeping oval, has been in place since 1926.

Known as the “Test of the Champion,” the Belmont was created as New York’s equivalent of the Derby Stakes in England.

All 13 Triple Crown winners completed their series sweep in the Belmont, and many more have seen the elusive prize slip away in the long and demanding test.

The most famous of all Belmont renewals is undoubtedly Secretariat’s 31-length tour de force in the 1973 edition. His final time of 2:24 remains an American record for 1 1/2 miles on dirt, a full two seconds faster than the next-fastest clocking held jointly by Easy Goer (1989) and A.P. Indy (1992).

The first running of the Belmont in 1867 was won by the filly Ruthless. Another filly, Tanya, won the race the first time it was contested at Belmont Park in 1905, but it would be 102 more years before Rags to Riches (2007) became the third female to win.

New York was one of the last racing jurisdictions in the United States to switch from bookmaking to pari-mutuel wagering, which was instituted in time for the 1940 Belmont Stakes.

Eleven odds-on favorites have won the Belmont since 1940. The shortest-priced winner was Triple Crown hero Count Fleet (1943), who paid $2.10 after defeating two rivals.

Three horses in the pari-mutuel era have won the Belmont at odds of 50-1 or higher: Sarava (2002, $142.50), Sherluck (1961, $132.10), and Temperence Hill (1980, $108.80). Sarava and Sherluck spoiled the Triple Crown bids of War Emblem and Carry Back, respectively.

Belmont Stakes History Details

First run in 1867, the Belmont Stakes is one of the oldest Thoroughbred races in the United States that still runs today. Fondly known as the Third Jewel of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes has a more grueling and fitting nickname – The Test of the Champion.

Many believe that the Belmont Stakes are named after Belmont Park, but the race is actually named after August Belmont Sr., a famous horseman who lived during the 19th century. Belmont Sr. founded the Belmont Stakes at Jerome Park Racetrack in 1868, where the race ran until 1890. It was then moved to Morris Park Racecourse from 1890 till 1905. After that, the Belmont Stakes settled in to its new and current home at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.

The 1 ½ mile challenge is one of the most grueling races a three-year old colt can endure. The Belmont Stakes has also been run at several other distances, and was originally run at 1 5/8th miles. Race organizers settled on the 1 ½ mile distance in 1926 where it has remained since. The only exception was in 2020 when the race was run before the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes at a shortened distance of 11/8th miles due to COVID-19 pandemic related scheduling changes.

Crowds at the Belmont Stakes have reached as high as 103,000, such in the year War Emblem won in 2002. For various reasons, the race organizers have capped attendance at 90,000 in recent renewals. This is likely due to the unpredictable response from the mainstream.

Despite it’s standing as an American Classic, interest in the Belmont Stakes can  be tough to pinpoint. During California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid in 2014, more than $150 million was wagered over the 13-card program on Belmont Day. The following year, during American Pharoah’s own bid for immortality, the handle actually decreased to the $135 million range. In 2016, the Belmont Stakes handle dipped to $99 million with no Triple Crown bid on the line.

The Triple Crown

The Triple Crown series was cemented in terms of schedule by 1931, placing the Belmont Stakes as the final leg. Prior to 1931, the races were flipped around in order depending on track availability and the agenda’s of the organizers themselves. The term “Triple Crown” was coined by Daily Racing Form writer Charles Hatton in the early 1930’s and the series was later instituted as it is known today.

Thirteen champions have earned the Triple Crown. They are: Sir Barton (1919) ,Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), Affirmed (1978), American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018).

The gap between Affirmed and American Pharoah winning Triple Crowns was 38 years, and was heavily publicized heading in to the 2015 Belmont Stakes. American Pharoah’s victory at the Belmont may have been the most significant in resurrecting interest in the Triple Crown as he was later voted as the Sportsperson of the Year in Sports Illustrated through an online poll.

An additional 23 horses have won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, but come up short at the Belmont Stakes. Some of the most notable horses to do so are Northern Dance (1964), Spectacular Bid (1979), Alysheba (1987), Sunday Silence (1989), Silver charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), Charismatic (1999), Smarty Jones (2004), I’ll Have Another (2012) and California Chrome (2014).

One of the most memorable finishes at the Belmont Stakes is also its most tragic. Charismatic fractured several bones in his foreleg during the 1999 renewal. Jockey Chris Antley sensed something was wrong during the race and leapt off so he could support Charismatic’s leg himself. The injury forced Charismatic in to retirement, but he was honored with an Eclipse Award for 3-Year-Old Colt of the Year and Horse of the Year in 1999 regardless of the injury. An iconic photo of Antley bracing Charismatic’s leg at the Belmont Stakes was the 1999 National Thoroughbred Racing Association Moment of the Year.

Belmont Stakes Traditions

Like its Triple Crown counterparts, the Belmont Stakes has many nicknames. The “Test of the Champion” tag was given to reflect both the difficulty of the race and its status as the final trial in the Triple Crown. The Belmont Stakes is also known as the “Run For The Carnations” as the winner is decorated in a blanked of white carnations.

The winner is also adorned with a silver trophy designed by Paulding Farnham for Tiffany and Co.

Traditions for the Belmont Stakes have been subject to overhaul. The parade song has been changed multiple times and been open to adopting popular songs like Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” or Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind”.

The official drink of the Belmont Stakes was formerly the White Carnation, but was later changed to the Belmont Breeze. In 1997. In 2011 the drink was again altered to the Belmont Jewel.

Belmont Stakes Records

Secretariat is the track king of Belmont Park. His record of 2:24.00 from 1973 remains the speed record for the Belmont Stakes, and his win of 31 lengths is the largest margin of victory ever recorded in the race as well. Risen Star, a son of Secretariat, would also win the Belmont Stakes in 1988 and posted the second-fastest time in the history of the race up until that point.

Jim McLaughlin and Eddie Arcaro each hold 6 wins as the most successful jockey’s at the Belmont Stakes. Trainer James Gordon Rowe Sr. still holds the record for most wins by a trainer (8) despite his last win coming in 1913.

Three fillies have won the Belmont Stakes. The first was actually the first ever champion in the race’s history with Ruthless in 1867. Tanya followed in 1905 and the most recent was Rags to Riches in 2007.

Full Listing of Belmont Stakes Winners

Jena M. Antonucci
Javier Castellano
Mo Donegal
Todd Pletcher
Irad Ortiz Jr.
Essential Quality
Brad H. Cox
Luis Saez
Tiz the Law
Barclay Tagg
Manny Franco
Sir Winston
Mark E. Casse
Joel Rosario
Bob Baffert
Mike Smith
Todd Pletcher
Jose Ortiz
Steve Asmussen
Irad Ortiz, Jr
American Pharoah 
Bob Baffert
Victor Espinoza
Christophe Clement
Joel Rosario