The third and final leg of the Triple Crown™ and the most demanding, the Belmont Stakes will enter its 150th year in 2017. Named after banker August Belmont, the race took place at Jerome Park from 1867 to 1889, before eventually finding its current home in 1905 with the opening of Belmont Park in Elmony, NY.
From the incredible to the near misses, the Belmont Stakes has seen it all. With 12 Triple Crown™ winners anointed to date, the race has also seen some heart-breaking moments, with I’ll Have Another in 2012 and California Chrome in 2014 examples in recent years to be denied racing immortality.
Here, we will rank the greatest winners of the Belmont Stakes in its 149-year history.
5. Man O’War, 1920. The only horse on this list not to complete the Triple Crown (and would undeniably be higher had he done so), Man O’War came into the Belmont Stakes on the back of a Preakness victory which saw him set a track record at Pimlico despite the fact of being eased up in the final furlong. What came next was perfection in equine form. Devastating the field by an incredible 20-lenghts, Man O’War set an American record with a time of 2:14.20, obliterating Sir Barton’s record from the previous year by over three seconds. Notably, Man O’War’s omission from the list of all-time greats (albeit harshly) is cited by the fact that he was not entered in the Kentucky Derby® because his owner did not like racing in Kentucky and believed it was too early in the year for a young horse to go a mile and a quarter
4. Citation, 1948. Citation was a horse of firsts: becoming the first horse to win $1 million as well as 16 consecutive races in North America. Victories in the Kentucky Derby® by 3½ lengths and in the Preakness by 5½ set the Eddie Arcaro-ridden Citation up with a chance to become the eighth horse in history to complete the Triple Crown™, where he duly obliged. Now run over a mile and a half (ran over a mile and three furlongs from 1906 – 1925), Citation tied the stakes record of 2:28⅕ set by the 6th Triple Crown winner, Count Fleet and punching a one-way ticket into the history books.
3. Affirmed, 1978. Perhaps what sets this horse apart from others of similar ilk is not speed or prowess, rather his famous rivalry with long-time adversary Alydar. Continued on from their two-year-old season where Affirmed held a 4-2 lead in races between the two, the 1978 Belmont Stakes was set up as the showdown of the century. With Affirmed having claimed both the Derby and Preakness over Alydar, (a 1½ length margin in Kentucky, with a neck separating the two at Pimlico), fans of Alydar felt the longer distance would suit him more. Despite a pedestrian start, the pair were neck and neck half a mile out. Digging deep and under a brilliant ride from Steve Cauthen, Affirmed won by a neck to become racing’s 11th (and last for 37 years) Triple Crown™ winner.
2. American Pharoah, 2015. A nation held its breath and Pharoah duly delivered. Following a 37-year drought for a Triple Crown™winner, the weight of expectancy was huge entering the 2015 Belmont Stakes. Going off 3-5 favorite for the race after victories in the Derby and Preakness, he jumped into an early lead in the eight-horse field. Despite being the only horse to run in all three legs of the Triple Crown, he went gate-to-wire and never looked like being defeated. In front of an estimated 22 million viewers, he crossed the line 5½ lengths clear of his nearest rival, with the winning time the second-fastest for a Triple Crown winner ever, and coming home to a euphoric crowd. Perhaps telling of Pharoah’s widespread appeal, of 94,237 winning $2 tickets sold at Belmont Park, each with a yield of $3.50 for American Pharoah's first-place finish, some 90,128 went unredeemed several days after the race, most likely kept as race-day souvenirs.
1. Secretariat, 1973. Quite simply put; the greatest thoroughbred ever to grace the hallowed dirt of Belmont Park. His showing in the 1973 Belmont Stakes will forever be etched in the memory as one of the greatest races of all-time. Having set speed record in both the Kentucky Derby®and Preakness, Secretariat was sent off a short 1-10 favorite. In front of a crowd of 69,138 and an audience share of 52% in households, what transpired next set a standard that has yet to be matched. Running 2:24 flat, CBS announcer exclaimed “Secretariat is widening now, he is moving like a tremendous machine!”. His time was the fastest 1½ miles on dirt in history, and in doing so became the ninth horse in history to complete the Triple Crown™. A record which still stands to this day, his performance is widely considered one of the greatest ever by a race horse.
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