Also known as “The Test of the Champion,” the Grade I Belmont Stakes is the third leg in American Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown series of stakes for three-year-old colts and fillies. Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, hosts its running.
The Belmont’s modern form takes place five weeks past the first jewel of the Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby (first Saturday in May) on the first or second Saturday in June. The Preakness takes place in between, two weeks after the Derby.
The Belmont is also called “The Run for the Carnations” in honor of the flower in the winner’s blanket. Its distance of 1 and ½ miles is a trial for most three-year-olds. Colts carry 126 pounds; fillies 121. The current purse is $1 million.
2021 Belmont Stakes
While the 2020 Belmont Stakes were a lightning rod of controversy due to its shortened length and ban on fans in attendance, the 2021 edition will hopefully return in its traditional form, at its usual distance with spectators in attendance. It’s currently set for Saturday, June 5, 2021.
Belmont Park, the Belmont Stakes Racetrack of 2021
Belmont Park was entrenched in the history of horse racing even before the Triple Crown solidified into its current form. It’s located in Elmont, New York. Many champions have raced or paraded at “the Big Sandy,” including Seabiscuit, Man O’ War, War Admiral, and Rachel Alexandra.
Its surface can be deep, and at a mile and a half, its dimensions are always wide. Belmont Park covers 430 acres and also hosts a 1 3/16 mile turf course. It can hold over 120,000 fans if necessary, but attendance has been recently capped at 90,000.
William Collins Whitney and August Belmont, Jr., built the first race track known as Belmont in 1905. Before then, the Belmont Stakes were run at Jerome Park Racetrack, then Morris Park Racecourse, and Aqueduct Racetrack in the mid-1960s while Belmont Park underwent renovation.
Understanding the Belmont Stakes
The Belmont Stakes, although older than the Kentucky Derby (1875) and the Preakness (1873) by a handful of years, is primarily known for its monster track, monster length, and monster attendance in years when a Triple Crown is possible. Its status as the exclamation point on the end of the spring-summer season for three-year-olds tends to overshadow the more personable and enduring characteristics surrounding the Kentucky Derby and even the Preakness.
For example, the Belmont’s “theme song” has changed approximately five times, the race itself has been run at four different locations, and its official flower and cocktail drift about as well. Its white carnations for the winner’s blanket are imported, although not artificially colored as the “black-eyed Susans” of the Preakness are.
The winning owner of the Belmont Stakes is awarded the historic August Belmont Trophy in a ceremony which is sometimes awkward when a Triple Crown winner contender fails to cross the finish line in front; this was the case several times in the 2000s before American Pharoah broke a drought of almost four decades in 2015. When a Triple Crown score is possible, the names of the horses who have accomplished the feat, along with the silks of their jockeys, are placed on large signs down the Belmont backstretch.
The rarity of a Triple Crown win, particularly after a lengthy pause between them, makes for great drama at the end of the Belmont when one is possible. With the achievement never guaranteed from year to year, unlike a winner of the World Series or Super Bowl, Belmont Park becomes the focus of worldwide attention when a Triple Crown completion is a prospect.
Belmont Stakes Qualifiers and Why It Matters
Reaching the Belmont is a far less complicated affair than qualifying for the Kentucky Derby or Kentucky Oaks. Its distance is daunting, and so is the competition.
Most of the berths are secured in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, the top three finishers that automatically advance to the Belmont. The bizarreness of 2020 saw the tables turned, and the Belmont Stakes served as a prep race for the Kentucky Derby.
The rest of the field is filled by order of lifetime earnings. A limit of sixteen colts and fillies are permitted in the starting gate. The entry fee is $15,000, and the starting fee is another $15,000.
Belmont Stakes History
The first Belmont Stakes took place in 1867, and is named for its first sponsor, August Belmont Sr. It was run clockwise, as is the case in the United Kingdom. A filly, Ruthless, was the winner. In its long history, the Belmont has run at a variety of lengths. Its modern distance of 1 ½ mile was settled upon in 1926.
Belmont Stakes Historic Races
The best known Belmont Stakes by far is the one which secured Secretariat’s Triple Crown in 1973. Although the 70s were a golden era for Triple Crown winners, with several scattered throughout the decade, none came close to Secretariat’s commanding performance even at the lengthy Belmont, which has tamed so many precocious colts.
Sportscaster Chic Anderson’s exclamation that “Secretariat is widening now… He is moving like a tremendous machine!” is in the annals of horseracing and broadcasting lore. And indeed, the magnificent champion’s margin of victory was an astounding 31 lengths. No colt has come close to his fractions or his finish time of 2:24.
Three fillies have won the Belmont: Ruthless in 1867, Tanya in 1905, and Rags to Riches in 2007.
Belmont Stakes Greatest Upsets
Due to the extra weight of expectations on horses primed for a Triple Crown, Belmont upsets sometimes seem more dramatic than those in the other Grade I events. Sometimes even if the second or third choices with the betters win, the loss seems more theatrical.
In 1997, for example, beautiful Silver Charm, piloted by Gary Stevens, seemed a real possibility to break the drought, but he tired himself in a head to head contest with longtime rival Free House. Second choice Touch Gold sailed on by at the finish line.
The Belmont can be a challenge to bet because sometimes its entrants have never run as far as they will in this race. Its extensive turns and demanding backstretch are also tough to handicap. So far, the public has successfully chosen the winner of the Belmont Stakes, only 64 of 152 times. It’s not unusual, then, to see a Belmont longshot take the white carnations.
In 2002, for example, Sarava whisked past War Emblem to end his Triple Crown run, paying $70 to 1. Even when a Triple Crown isn’t on the line, the Belmont is full of surprises: The 2019 running ended in a 10-1 upset when Sir Winston paid $22.40.
2020 Belmont Stakes Review
The 2020 Belmont Stakes was one for the record books even before it began. Although the Belmont is typically the final race of the Triple Crown season and occasionally filled with fervent anticipation of a new Triple Crown winner, the 152nd running was unusually quiet.
It took place without fans on June 20, before the 2020 Kentucky Derby (September 5) and the 2020 Preakness Stakes (October 3.) It was also shortened to 1 1/8 miles due to its odd assignment in the standard Triple Crown order; the colts and fillies’ training schedule was upset by the pandemic, and they were racing and prepping for distance far less than in a typical year. The New York Racing Association feared that asking the three-year-olds to run the usual distance unnecessarily risked injury.
This was the first time a Triple Crown season began with the Belmont. The races had run in their particular order since 1931. Many avid Thoroughbred fans were skeptical of the temporarily shortened length, scoffing at the race as “not really the Belmont” and wondering if a potential Triple Crown contender might water down the traditional meaning of the title (They needed have worried: Three different victors won the Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont in 2020.)
The structure of Belmont Park also helped to dictate its surprisingly short length. Conducting the race at 1 ¼ mile was under consideration, but doing so would have placed the starting gate on the track’s enormous clubhouse turn, which would have given undue advantage to the colts on the outside.
Still, the idea of the Belmont running before either the Derby and the Preakness and at a shorter length than either of them seemed appropriate for a year in which the whole world sometimes seemed upside down.
However, with New York State hit particularly hard by the pandemic, especially its elderly population, the Belmont’s appearance, no matter its form, was reassuring. It was the first major sports event in the state since the COVID 19 shutdowns in March.
However, the 2020 Belmont was also significant for non-COVD reasons. Although it has always been run in New York, no matter the race track, the Belmont had not seen a New York-bred entrant as the winner since 1882, when Forester managed to finish in front. At last, the streak ended this year when Tiz the Law, with Manny Franco up, won the 9-furlong contest in 1:46.53 by a margin of 3 ¾ lengths.
Here is the full order of finish for the 2020 Belmont. The 6-5 favorite won:
1) Tiz the Law
2) Dr Post
3) Max Player
5) Tap It to Win
6) Sole Volante
8) Farmington Road
9) Fore Left
10) Jungle Runner
The wonderfully named Tiz the Law is the son of Constitution and Tizfiz and owned by Sackatoga Stable, the same group who gave the world eternal fan favorite and former Triple Crown contender Funny Cide. After winning the Belmont, Tiz the Law was favored in the Kentucky Derby but finished second behind Authentic.
Currently, Tiz the Law is projected to run in the Breeders’ Cup World Championship Classic in November. A win there would certainly boost his chances for an Eclipse Award for Three Year Old Male Horse of the Year or even Horse of the Year.
Belmont Stakes Is Worth the Trip
The most dramatic member of the Triple Crown family, the Belmont Stakes, takes no prisoners and no excuses in many ways. Its structure and distance act as tremendous equalizers in the search for the Triple Crown, and it’s a tremendously exciting race in its own right.