Belmont Stakes Primer: A Star-Studded History

By Margaret Ransom

The Belmont Stakes is known for a lot of things, from being the crowning glory of a grueling five-week race series to a crushing spoiler for runners and their connections attempting to earn racing immortality with a Triple Crown.

This year, however, it will be known as a classic example of how the year 2020 has gone so far, for the first time being the lead-in event to the Triple Crown series thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. And to add insult to injury, the race’s classic distance has been cut back to nine furlongs for the first time in decades.

Belmont Park – Photo Courtesy of NYRA

And in keeping with the restrictions the state of New York has placed on sporting events, this year’s Belmont Stakes will be conducted spectator-free and with all participants following strict safety protocols, like social distancing and wearing masks. And despite the limitations, which includes not permitting owners to watch their horses run, it’s evident that the horse racing industry as a whole is grateful the race will be contested at all regardless of the limitations.

And of all the things the Belmont Stakes is known for throughout history, it’s probably the sheer amount of amazing horses who’ve won the race at all distances, tracks and track conditions since it was first contested in 1867.

In addition to the 13 Triple Crown winners, a host of historic names have graced the Belmont Stakes winner’s circle draped in the blanket of carnations. Sometimes the term “legends of the turf” is used too loosely, but it seems almost an understatement when it comes to the Belmont Stakes. It has been the stop for all of the great racing legends, from Belair Stud, Sam Riddle and Greentree Stable to the greats, “Sunny” Jim Fitzsimmons and Woody Stephens. Back in the day, winning the Belmont was as important – if not more so – than any other race.

Some names even the casual racing fan will recognize as third-jewel winners, in addition to the 13 Triple Crown winners, include Spendthrift, Peter Pan, Colin, Native Dancer, Nashua, Needles, Gallant Man, Sword Dancer, Riva Ridge, Conquistador Cielo, Swale, Bet Twice, Risen Star, Easy Goer, A.P. Indy, Colonial Affair, Point Given and Empire Maker. Fillies have won three times with Rags to Riches being the last in 2007, and nine foreign-bred horses have taken to the track known as “Big Sandy” on the Saturday three weeks after the Preakness Stakes to win the big race.

The first Belmont Stakes was held in 1866 at Jerome Park Racetrack in the Bronx. Named for New York politician August Belmont, who was a German immigrant, the silver Belmont Stakes trophy presented to the winning connections every year is also named for him and was designed with his first Belmont winner, Fenian, memorialized on top. The owner of the winning horse each year is given the option of keeping the Tiffany & Co. creation for the year duration of their horse’s reign as the Belmont winner or leave it on display at Belmont Park. The latter is usually the preferred option as the winning owner receives a silver tray with the names of all Belmont winners engraved on it to keep. Additionally, the trainer, jockey and exercise rider receive trays and the groom receives some other mementos.

In 1890 the Belmont Stakes moved to Morris Park Racecourse until Belmont Park, located on Long Island, opened in 1905. The Belmont Stakes has been at its current location of Elmont, New York, just outside Queens for all but a handful of runnings. The Belmont Stakes wasn’t contested in 1911 or 1912 due to anti-gambling laws at the time. Also, the Belmont Stakes was held at Aqueduct from 1963 to 1967 due to the reconstruction/remodel of Belmont Park.

The late Hall of Famer Woody Stephens leads all modern trainers with five consecutive wins from 1982 to 1986 (Conquistador Cielo, Caveat, Swale, Crème Fraice and Danzig Connection) but James G. Rowe is the leading trainer overall with eight wins from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Hall of Famers Jim McLaughlin and Eddie Arcaro lead all jockeys in wins with eight each, and Bill Shoemaker booted home five winners. Several modern-day jockeys all share three wins a piece, including Pat Day, Gary Stevens, Laffit Pincay Jr. and Mike Smith. All four are also members of the Hall of Fame.

Comanche in 1893 set the stakes record at the 1 1/8-mile distance when he stopped the clock in 1:53.25, though Secretariat owns the record at the classic distance when he stopped the Teletimer in 2:24 in 1973.

The New York weather on Saturday is expected to be wet, with afternoon thunderstorms likely and highs in the lower 80s, so a wet track is highly possible. The 152nd running of the Belmont Stakes is Saturday’s 10th race at Belmont Park and will leave the gate at 5:42 p.m. ET. The field, in post-position order, with jockeys, trainers, morning line odds and pedigree, is:

  1. Tap It to Win, John Velazquez, Mark Casse, 6-1

Tapit—Onepointhreekarats, by Medaglia d’Oro

  1. Sole Volante, Luca Panici, Patrick Biancone, 9-2

Karakontie—Light Blow, by Kingmambo

  1. Max Player, Joel Rosario, Linda Rice, 15-1

Honor Code—Fools in Love, by Not For Love

  1. Modernist, Junior Alvarado, Bill Mott, 15-1

Uncle Mo—Symbolic Gesture, by Bernardini

  1. Farmington Road, Javier Castellano, Todd Pletcher, 15-1

Quality Road—Silver La Belle, by Langfuhr

  1. Fore Left, Jose Ortiz, Doug O’Neill, 30-1

Twirling Candy—Simply Sunny, by Unbridled’s Song

  1. Jungle Runner, Reylu Gutierrez, Steve Asmussen, 50-1

Candy Ride—Minx, by Tapit

  1. Tiz the Law, Manuel Franco, Barclay Tagg, 6-5

Constitution—Tizfiz, by Tiznow

  1. Dr Post, Irad Ortiz, Jr., T. Pletcher, 5-1

Quality Road—Mary Delaney, by Hennessy

  1. Pneumatic, Ricardo. Santana, Jr., S. Asmussen, 8-1

Uncle Mo—Teardrop, by Tapit

Belmont Stakes Odds

PP Horse Odds Jockey Trainer
1 Tap It To Win 6-1 John R. Velazquez Mark E. Casse
2 Sole Volante 9-2 Luca Panici Patrick L. Biancone
3 Max Player 15-1 Joel Rosario Linda Rice
4 Modernist 15-1 Junior Alvarado William I. Mott
5 Farmington Road 15-1 Javier Castellano Todd A. Pletcher
6 Fore Left 30-1 Jose Ortiz Doug O’Neill
7 Jungle Runner 50-1 Reylu Gutierrez Steven M. Asmussen
8 Tiz The Law 6-5 Manny Franco Barclay Tagg
9 Dr Post 5-1 Irad Ortiz, Jr. Todd A. Pletcher
10 Pneumatic 8-1 Ricardo Santana, Jr. Steven M. Asmussen

 

Margaret Ransom
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters, Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.

After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager. She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several race horse retirement organizations, including CARMA.

Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull as her favorite horse of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, three Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.