The third leg of North America’s Triple Crown is the Belmont Stakes. Held every year in June at New York City’s Belmont Park, the “Test of the Champion” or “Run for the Carnations,” nicknamed for the length of the race – the longest of the Triple Crown – and the blanket of flowers placed around the winner’s neck, is a Grade I, 1 ½ mile stakes race for three-year-olds.
Always a highly regarded horse race, the Belmont Stakes takes on additional interest and audience in years in which a horse had previously won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. He (or she) shows up to New York with history on the line. Only 12 horses have won all three races, making a sweep a result that is celebrated historically.
The first Belmont Stakes was held at Jerome Park Racetrack in the Bronx. Built in 1866 by a stock market speculator named Leonard Jerome and named for the financier of the construction, August Belmont Sr., the race was held at Jerome Park until 1890, when it moved to the nearby Morris Park Racecourse. It continued to be held at Morris Park every year in June, with the exception of 1895 when the race had to be pushed back to November when New York passed new laws banning bookmaking. Belmont Park opened on Long Island in 1905 and the race was moved to New York City’s newest showcase track.
Belmont Park also had its share of issues with New York legislation, with the race having to be cancelled in 1911 and 1912 due to anti-gambling legislation. But the race and tradition continued, and its history includes the first winner of the Triple Crown in 1919, Sir Barton, though it wasn’t known as such at the time. The term wouldn’t be coined until 1930 when Gallant Fox won all three races, and wouldn’t see widespread use until 1935. And since 1926 the winner of the Belmont has been presented with the August Belmont Trophy, which owners get to keep for one year and also receive a silver miniature for permanent use.
Belmont Park underwent renovations from 1963 to 1967 and the Stakes was held at Aqueduct Racetrack during this time. It was six years after the return to Belmont that Secretariat won the Stakes by 31-lengths in a record time of 2:24 and became a Triple Crown champion, also ending the 25 year gap between Citation, the Belmont and Triple Crown winner in 1948. Secretariat’s record still stands to this day.
The Belmont Stakes is the third jewel in the Triple Crown and without a doubt this has led to some close finishes and inevitable heartbreak in recent years. In 2002, despite the largest crowd in the Belmont Stakes history at over 100,000 in attendance, War Emblem lost to long shot Sarava. The year 2012 saw favorite I’ll Have Another withdrawn in the preceding days due to injury. Fan darling California Chrome lost to Tonalist in 2014. Just when it looked like the Belmont might not ever see another Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah came to the rescue in 2015, becoming the 12th horse in history to win the Crown and the first in 37 years.
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