by Chris, the Impaler - 06/03/2005
Where were the post-parade invented, the first photo-finish camera used, the first live call announced and the first female jockey to ride a Triple Crown winner? If you answered Belmont Park then you might have a chance against Jeopardy champ Ken Jennings.
Perhaps not, but, as we begin our Belmont Stakes week at Doc's Sports, we are reminded, that thanks to Afleet Alex, this year there is not the added attraction of a possible Triple Crown winner as there has been in the past six out of eight Belmont Stakes. But you don't need to see a possible Triple Crown winner to come to Belmont Park.
You come to Belmont not only for the Run for the Carnations, but also for the Belmont Breeze's, the venerable 300-year-old white pine that sits in the paddock, and as a part of the ongoing history of firsts that is Belmont Park.
This year the 137th running of the $1 million Belmont Stakes (Gr. 1) is set for Saturday, June 11, 2005, at Belmont Park, and is the eldest brother of the Triple Crown's three races. It predates the Preakness by six years and the Kentucky Derby by eight. The winner of the first Kentucky Derby, Aristides, ran second in the Belmont Stakes of 1875, behind Calvin.
Named for August Belmont, the first president of the American Jockey Club, the Belmont Stakes was first run in 1867 at the Jerome Park, NY. Only four horses vied against each other for a mile and five furlongs and chance at the $1,875.00 purse that was one by a filly, Ruthless, in 3:05. She was one of only two fillies to ever win the Belmont Stakes. Second place won $300, and an English racing saddle, made by Merry, of St. James' Street, London, and was presented by Mr. Duncan.
While it was hailed at the time as one of the first modern race tracks of the day, Jerome Park became best known for its odd shape. Due to the topography, a ditch in the backstretch, the racetrack, based on English design, had three turns rather than two.
The Belmont Stakes was singular in another way as well; it was run clockwise in keeping with English tradition (in the United States all horse races are run counter-clockwise). It was not until 1921 that track officials switched the direction of the race for the first time in Belmont history. Grey Lag's Belmont (1921) was the first running of this prestigious event in the counter-clockwise direction at Belmont Park. This 53rd running was a mile and three-eighths over the main course.
The 1880 Belmont Stakes featured a brand new idea in horse racing to lure spectators/gamblers to the track. The first post parade in this country came in the 14th running of the Belmont Stakes. Until that time, the horses went directly from paddock to post. This met with immediate success and was quickly adopted by racetracks across the country. Today, when you hear the opening strains of Sinatra's, "New York, New York" that signifies it is time for the Belmont Post-Parade.
In 1890, Morris Park replaced Jerome Park and the Belmont Stakes was moved there. Morris Park, a mile and three-eighths track, was located a few miles east of what is now Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. By 1905 the stakes race moved once again to Belmont Park and it has been raced there ever since save for two years (1911-1912) when they did not run the race at all.
A horse is only considered a thoroughbred if you can trace their bloodlines to one of three horses; Matchen, 1748, Herod, 1758 and Eclipse, 1764. These horses are represented on the Tiffany trophy by supporting a silver bowl originally given by the Belmont family to the owner of the winning horse at the Belmont Stakes. The trophy celebrates the heritage of the Belmont Stakes and stands approximately 18 inches high. The trophy is presented to the owner in the winner's circle along with the carnation blanket.
No thoroughbred has ever dominated the mile and a half faster than the legendary Secretariat. His 1973 Belmont Stakes victory still stands as the best in Belmont history and a world record for the mile and one-half distance at 2:24. What is perhaps even more remarkable is that he won by 31 lengths shattering Count Fleet's existing record of 25 lengths set in 1943!
The second-fastest clocking is shared by Easy Goer (1989) and A. P. Indy (1992) at 2:26, while Risen Star (1988) and Point Given (2001) hold the fourth-fastest time in Belmont history at 2:26 2/5.
The white carnation is the traditional flower of the Belmont Stakes. The winner of the Belmont Stakes gets to wear the carnation blanket. The blanket requires approximately 350-400 carnations, glued to green velveteen spread and weighs between 30 and 40 pounds. These flowers are shipped from California or Bogota, Columbia and the blanket takes approximately 10 man-hours to make.
The Belmont Stakes is the fourth oldest stakes race in North America. The Phoenix Stakes, now run in the fall at Keeneland as The Phoenix Breeders' Cup, was first run in 1831, the Queen's Plate in Canada had its inauguration in 1860 and the Travers in Saratoga was initially run in 1864.
Although present day jockeys have yet to come close, Eddie Arcaro and James McLaughlin each rode six Belmont Stakes winners, while James Rowe registered ten Belmont victories. Rowe won the Belmont a record eight times as a trainer and twice as a jockey (1872-73). However, in recent memory, jockey Prado has won the Belmont Stakes two of the last three years. Pat Day has won three times and Jerry Bailey has won twice.
Last year, whether it was due to the anticipation of Smarty Jones winning the Triple Crown or not, the 2004 Belmont Stakes set the precedent for horse racing in New York with a record attendance of 120,139. However, looking at additional high attendance marks we see that in recent history anytime a horse contends for the Triple Crown there are record crowds at Belmont.
In 2002, 103,222 people watched as Sarava denied War Emblem his bid to win the Triple Crown; 101,864 in 2003 (Empire Maker denies Funny Cide the Triple Crown); 85,818 in 1999 (Lemon Drop Kid denies Charismatic the Triple Crown); 82,694 in 1971 (Pass Catcher denies Canonero II the Triple Crown); and 80,162 in 1998 (Victory Gallop denies Real Quiet the Triple Crown).
New wagering records were established for the Belmont Stakes in 2004: Total handle topped $114,887,594 and on-track handle reached $14,461,402. This year, however, is a year when no horse will contend for the Triple Crown so expect handle and attendance figures to be down from last year.
And for those trend junkies (and Afleet Alex bettors), aside from Triple Crown winners, there have only been 17 horses that did not win the Kentucky Derby, but won the Preakness and then went on to win Belmont Stakes. The last horse to do this was Point Given in 2001 and before him was Tabasco Cat in 1994.
Philosopher, poet, literary and cultural critic, George Santayana once wrote, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Which would not be all together a bad thing since last year we nailed Birdstone at 36-1.
Over the Belmont week we'll look at why distance is the single most over-rated statistic for handicapping the Belmont Stakes and how to bet to win the Run for the Carnations.