The (Very Long) History of the Belmont Stakes
While the Belmont is always more interesting when the Triple Crown is on the line, this ancient race doesn’t need gimmicks. It’s already the oldest of the three, and the longest at a punishing 1 ½ miles, making the Belmont the end boss of thoroughbred racing in North America.
The very first Belmont Stakes was run in 1867 at Jerome Park Racetrack in The Bronx. The park was built by Leonard Jerome and financed by August Belmont Sr., which is how the race got its name. Ruthless, a filly owned and bred by Francis Morris, won the inaugural race. Fittingly enough, the Belmont was moved to Morris Park Racecourse in 1890; Morris Park was built by Francis’ son, John Albert Morris.
It wasn’t until 1905 that Belmont Park opened on Long Island and took over hosting the Belmont Stakes. There were some dicey moments along the way, including the cancellation of the race in 1911 and 1912 after the anti-gambling Hart-Agnew Law was passed in New York. But the Belmont returned the following year, and it’s been held at Belmont Park ever since – except for a brief stay at the Aqueduct Racetrack from 1963-67 while renovations were underway.
Of course, you can’t talk about Belmont Stakes history without mentioning all the great horses who completed the Triple Crown there – none of them greater than Secretariat, who set the course record of 2:24 back in 1973. But this race is designed to crush Triple Crown dreams, not fulfill them. No fewer than 23 horses have won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, only to fall short at the Belmont. Spectacular Bid (1979) finished third here, and so did Northern Dancer (1964).
And the greatest horse of all-time didn’t even get a crack at the Triple Crown. It wasn’t part of racing tradition when Man ‘o War won the 1920 Belmont Stakes; he skipped the Kentucky Derby in order to race at the Preakness just a few days later, back before the schedule was changed to leave room for all three races.