The Belmont Stakes, http://www.belmontstakes.org, has been held at four different tracks during the 144 year history of the race but has become synonymous with its namesake, Belmont Park in the Long Island town of Elmont, New York. The track and the race are named after one of the men responsible for its creation, 19th century stock market magnate August Belmont, Sr. Belmont and a colleague, Leonard Jerome started the annual Grade 1 stakes race which was originally held at the Jerome Park Racetrack – a venue obviously backed financially by Belmont’s associate Mr. Jerome. August Belmont died in 1890 and Jerome in 1891 and following their passing the event was moved to the nearby Morris Park Race Course until the opening of Belmont Park in May 1905. The race has been held annually at the facility since then with a few exceptions–in 1911 and 1912 the park was ‘dark’ due to hysterical anti-gambling legislation that had been passed in New York State. Between 1963 and 1967 the race was held at nearby Aqueduct Racetrack due to a major renovation project at Belmont Park.
Today, Belmont Park along with the other major New York state racing facilities – is owned and operated by the non-profit New York Racing Association. The NYRA assumed ownership of Belmont Park along with Aqueduct, Saratoga and the now defunct Jamaica Racetrack in 1955. The Empire State’s other major racing facility, Finger Lakes, is not owned by the NYRA. In 2007, a plan was discussed to spin off Belmont Park into its own corporate entity and significantly expand the racing schedule. The scheme was a pet project of then governor Elliot Spitzer who additionally proposed closing down Aqueduct. The idea was to add a casino facility and renovate the Belmont Park track to facilitate a year round racing schedule. The plan came to a screeching halt – along with Spitzer’s political career – when he resigned amid a prostitution scandal in 2008.
Belmont remains one of the most important racetracks in the sport along with Saratoga, Churchill Downs, Del Mar and Santa Anita. As the third leg of the ‘Triple Crown’, there has been no shortage of great horses and memorable moments at the track. 11 Triple Crown winners – ”including such legendary names as Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed and Citation – have competed at Belmont. Secretariat’s dominating 31 length Belmont Stakes victory to clinch the 1973 Triple Crown is considered his greatest race and arguably the definitive performance in the sport’s history. Belmont has also seen its share of tragedy – in 1975 one of the all time great fillies, Ruffian, broke her ankle late in a match race against the best male horse of the year, Foolish Pleasure. Ruffian had to be put down after surgical complications and was laid to rest in the Belmont infield.