This is it – the final leg of the Triple Crown Series. This is where it all comes down to the proverbial horse racing wire. The Belmont Stakes race takes place three weeks after the Preakness Stakes, which is held the third Saturday in May and five weeks after the Kentucky Derby which is held the first Saturday in May. It is run at Belmont Park in Elmore, New York on the longest track of the series. Due to the fact that most Thoroughbreds are not familiar with running this 1½ mile length, it has also been called the ‘Test of the Champion’ because the winner of this race, whether a Triple Crown contender or not, needs a lot of endurance to prevail.
How to Become the Champion
Any horse can be a champion as long as it is a 3-year-old pedigreed thoroughbred, full of health and stamina, trained to perfection, able to win a large purse or two, and be first across the wire in the Belmont Stakes. That is all it takes to become a champion. To become THE champion the horse must also win at the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, Maryland. A rare feat not accomplished since 1978 saw Affirmed take the Crown.
What Makes the Belmont Stakes Different
Although this is probably the most under-rated of the three races, it is, as previously stated, the truest test of the equine athlete. Any horse that can successfully make it to the end of this long, difficult race and win, place or show, is by far a superior animal.
Ask any Jockey who has tackled this course and they all say the same 3 things: Patience, patience, patience! It is the longest track that most have ever ridden and say it is easy for the horse and/or rider to get lost and not know where they are on the field. Horses that are used to kicking it into gear after a certain distance cannot be allowed to do that here because they may end up wearing out before they get to the final leg. Experience helps but as everyone familiar with this track can tell you, only the strongest will survive.
Good Facts to Know
The Belmont Stakes is the oldest race of the three, having started in 1867. It is named after the man who paid for it all, August Belmont, Sr. The race location has moved twice since its inception finally ending up in Elmore, New York by 1905 where it has been run ever since with two exceptions. Unfortunately for race fans and bettors, New York passed a law against gambling that closed the park in 1911 and 1912 and forced the cancellation of the Stakes race. Again, from 1963 to 1967, the park was closed for renovations but the Belmont Stakes continued at Aquaduct Racetrack.
Instead of running for roses (Kentucky Derby) or Black Eyed Susans (Preakness Stakes) they ‘Run for the Carnations’ which are placed on the neck of the winner. Unlike the other two stakes races, there really is no official song at Belmont. They sing just about anything that has the word ‘New York’ or ‘Empire State’ in the title. Not really. The three they have used in the past and present are ‘Sidewalks of New York’, ‘New York, New York’ and ‘Empire State of Mind’.
Great Place to Wager if You Like Long Shots
The Belmont Stakes is probably the hardest race to handicap because few, if any, entrants have any previous experience on a track length of 1½ miles. This not only makes for some exciting races but also leaves the bettor in a good spot to pick and win with a long shot. For example, the 2011 Stakes race pit Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom against Preakness Stakes winner Shackleford with neither finishing in the money. Instead, a 24-1 long shot named Ruler On Ice did the job. That was the most recent upset but if you happened to bet on Sarava in 2002 you cashed in big with 70-1 odds, the biggest in Belmont Stakes history. “Up for grabs” is as good a way as any to describe a Belmont entrant’s chances.
There are a number of Triple Crown dreams that have ended with this race but fans always continue to believe that there will be another great thoroughbred to show us all what the word ‘Champion’ really means. Who knows, maybe next year.