As the third leg of the ‘Triple Crown’ the Belmont Stakes has been won by a ‘who’s who’ of horse racing history. In between the first winner, Ruthless in 1867 and the most recent, Drosselmeyer in 2010 are an abundance of legendary race horses including the eleven to claim the ‘Triple Crown’. Interestingly, of those eleven only nine clinched the Triple Crown at Belmont – before 1931 the Preakness Stakes was the third and final leg with the Belmont being run second. Among the winning horses in the Belmont Stakes have been three fillies and eight foreign born horses.
The first Triple Crown winner to claim victory in the Belmont Stakes was Sir Barton in 1919. It would be 11 years until another horse won all three races, but 1930 began a stretch that saw some of the greatest equine competitors in history run at Belmont Park. Beginning that year with Gallant Fox the list of iconic horses includes Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Assault (1946) and Citation (1948). From that point, however, there would be no Triple Crown winner for twenty five years.
The Triple Crown drought ended in 1973 with a performance considered by many to be the greatest in horse racing history – and by a horse also mentioned frequently as the ‘best ever’. Secretariat didn’t just win the Belmont to secure the Triple Crown– he destroyed the rest of the field and set several race records that may never be broken. ‘Big Red’ followed up his record setting performance in the Kentucky Derby by completing the 1.5 mile course in 2:24, which was two seconds better than the previous mark. Even more impressive was his dominance over the rest of the field – Secretariat won by 31 lengths, 5 better than the previous record. Speed figures weren’t in use then but their inventor, Andrew Beyer, has calculated that Secretariat’s Belmont run would have received a 136 figure – the highest that he’s ever assigned.
Two more Triple Crown winners would claim horse racing immortality on the Belmont Track before the end of the 1970’s. Seattle Slew took the honors in 1977 and in 1978 Affirmed became the last horse to win the sport’s biggest prize. In addition, 21 horses have won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness but were unable to take the Belmont Stakes and complete the Triple Crown ‘trifecta’. Four of these have come during the last decade – War Emblem (2002), Funny Cide (2003), Smarty Jones (2004) and most recently Big Brown (2008). All told, there have been 50 horses that have won two of the three legs of the Triple Crown.
In 1995, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas completed an unprecedented ‘individual Triple Crown’ with the Belmont victory of Thunder Gulch. Lukas is the first – and so far only – owner, jockey or trainer in history to win all three Triple Crown races with different horses. Thunder Gulch won the Belmont and Kentucky Derby and another Lukas trained horse, Timber Country, took the Preakness Stakes.