The Belmont Stakes is the final leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown and is held every June at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. It comes five weeks after the first race of the Triple Crown – the Kentucky Derby – and three weeks after the Preakness Stakes. The Belmont Stakes is historically considered the most challenging of the Triple Crown races due to its distance, as most three year olds are unaccustomed to the mile and a half length. Furthermore, the scheduling of the Triple Crown races with three highly competitive events in such close succession makes it an even more daunting challenge.
First held in 1866, the Belmont is the oldest of the Triple Crown races besting the venerable Kentucky Derby (first held in 1875) by nearly a decade. The race is named for 19th century stock market magnate August Belmont, Sr. and was originally run at the Jerome Park Racetrack in the Bronx. The Jerome Park track was built by a Wall Street colleague of Belmont’s, Leonard 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. The race has been held annually since then with the exception of 1911 and 1912 when 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.
While the Kentucky Derby is known as ‘the run for the roses’, the Belmont winner traditionally receives a blanket of carnations though the moniker “the run for the carnations” hasn’t exactly become part of the American lexicon. Ironically, while the Kentucky Derby is known for its many time honored traditions the Belmont doesn’t have the same iconography and has changed things up on a number of occasions throughout its history. The Kentucky Derby’s ‘traditional cocktail’ is known by even non-horse racing fans as the Mint Julep. In contrast, the Belmont has had two ‘traditional cocktails’. The original was the ‘White Carnation’, a dubious mixture of vodka, peach schnapps, orange juice and cream that somehow tastes worse than it sounds. The current ‘traditional cocktail’ is the ‘Belmont Breeze’, a bourbon based mishmash of ingredients that includes several different fruit juices and has been described as a ‘refined trashcan punch’ by the New York Times.
The Belmont’s signature cocktail may be lacking, but it does boast what many consider the greatest performance in the history of thoroughbred racing. In 1973, Secretariat clinched the Triple Crown in the Belmont with a downright dominant performance – “Big Red” set a course record of 2:24 in winning the race by an astounding 31 lengths. One of the most enduring images of Secretariat’s victory is the shot of jockey Ron Turcotte easing up his mount near the finish line as he looks back over his shoulder in amazement that the rest of the field is nearly out of sight.