Each year, the American Thoroughbred Triple Crown series offers human interest storylines, future champion racehorses, and unparalleled excitement and competition.
In 2019, the first two legs of the Triple Crown have been full of drama. Can the Belmont Stakes compare to the events of this year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes?
By now, we have all seen the headlines and chaos surrounding this year’s Kentucky Derby in which the unofficial winner, Maximum Security, was disqualified for interference and Country House was named the official winner.
This was only the second disqualification in the history of the race, and although video clearly showed the interference and worse, the possible disaster that could have struck if any of the horses Maximum Security interfered with had fallen, fans and connections were upset with the call. The connections threatened to appeal the call and file a lawsuit, while fans argued amongst themselves for weeks.
To further add to the story, the horse that would have placed second but was moved up to first in the disqualification was not involved in the interference. He also gave his backers one of the largest payouts in the history of the Derby: $132.40 for a $2 win bet.
Just two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, fans were treated to another show in the Preakness Stakes. This time, the events began as the gate opened, when Bodexpress was unsettled and began to rear as the gates opened. The unfortunate timing of events resulted in the maiden 3-year-old dumping jockey John Velazquez to the ground while he proceeded to follow the field.
Bodexpress ran the entire race with no rider, and even though that meant he was immediately disqualified, it didn’t stop him from running alongside the pack throughout the entire race, and then avoiding the outrider at the end to complete almost an entire additional lap.
The events of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes will be hard to live up to, but the Belmont Stakes has a history of being the most dramatic of the three Triple Crown races.
Here are our top five most dramatic editions of the Belmont Stakes:
There have been many near misses in the Triple Crown, and several rivalries, such as Affirmed and Alydar or Real Quiet and Victory Gallop. But few horses’ names are forever intertwined as Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, and few rivalries have left racing fans so divided in their loyalties.
Everything about the pair set up them up for a perfect rivalry. Easy Goer was from the East Coast; Sunday Silence was from the West Coast. Easy Goer was a strapping chestnut; Sunday Silence was a solid black colt. Easy Goer had been bred and groomed for success and was the defending Champion 2-Year-Old Colt. Sunday Silence, conversely, had been kept reluctantly by his farm after twice failing to meet his reserve bid at auction.
Sunday Silence and Easy Goer met for the first time in the Kentucky Derby in which Sunday Silence handled the muddy track better than his rival to win the first leg of the Triple Crown. They met again in the Preakness Stakes, with Sunday Silence again besting Easy Goer by a nose after a head-to-head battle down the stretch.
In the Belmont, the rivalry continued. Fans cheered for a Triple Crown winner, in what could have been the first in a decade. Fans of Easy Goer defended his losses, noting his struggles over the muddy Churchill Downs track and some questionable moves by his jockey in the Preakness Stakes.
Easy Goer did prevail in the Belmont, defeating Sunday Silence soundly, by eight lengths, in what would be the second-fastest running of the race.
Sunday Silence avenged his loss by defeating Easy Goer and a field of older horses in the Breeders’ Cup Classic later that year. He stood at stud in Japan, where he was the leading sire for 13 years and produced multiple champions.
American Pharoah is a regally bred horse with Hall of Fame connections and as racing fans saw it, their best chance for a Triple Crown winner in 2015. There was some pressure on the colt, trainer Bob Baffert, and jockey Victor Espinoza: fans had suffered through their longest Triple Crown drought in history, 37 years. In that time, 13 horses had tried unsuccessfully to win the Belmont after sweeping the first two races, including California Chrome, also with Espinoza aboard, in the previous year.
American Pharoah did everything that was asked of him: he won the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn to prep, won the Kentucky Derby in a fair and convincing victory, and handled a muddy track with aplomb to win the Preakness Stakes. Still, the Belmont was a tough test and fans had been hurt before. Could the American Pharoah be the one?
The crowds turned out at Belmont Park in full force to cheer on the 3-year-old son of Pioneerof the Nile. Despite a slow break, he gained the lead quickly and won the race gate-to-wire. He won by 5 ½ lengths, the fourth largest margin of victory in the history of the race.
American Pharoah’s final time of 2:26.65 was the sixth-fastest in the history of the race and was the second-fastest of a Triple Crown winner, behind Secretariat. He also ran his final quarter-mile in a record 24.32 seconds, faster than ever Secretariat’s time in his world record performance.
Sports Illustrated memorialized the event on the cover of their following issue with a photo of the champion in his final stride over the wire while a packed Belmont apron of fans captured the event with their smartphones.
It is uncommon to see 3-year-old fillies compete in Triple Crown races. In the history of the race, only 23 fillies have even attempted the event. Three-year-old fillies often campaign for the filly equivalents of the Triple Crown races: the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs, the Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico, and the Acorn at Belmont Park.
When a filly does enter against the boys, it demonstrates how highly regarded she is by her connections.
Rags to Riches was one such filly. In 2007, she demolished the field in the Kentucky Oaks, and was entered in the Belmont Stakes to take on the boys. Rags to Riches was trained by Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher and ridden by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, neither of whom had won a Triple Crown race at the time.
Rags to Riches soon met up with the winner of that year’s Preakness, Curlin. The two dueled throughout the length of the long Belmont stretch, five lengths ahead of the rest of the field, until Rags to Riches pulled in front to win by a head. Curlin would go on to be one of the most accomplished horses of the decade and held the record for the highest money earning horse for years.
Rags to Riches became just the third filly to win the Belmont in the race’s 150-year history, and she was the first filly to win in 102 years.
In the history of the Triple Crown, 23 horses have won the first two legs but failed to complete the Triple Crown by winning the Belmont Stakes. The most dramatic Triple Crown loss came in 1998, when Victory Gallop upset Real Quiet in the Belmont Stakes.
Victory Gallop had finished second to Real Quiet in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. The pair met up again in the Belmont Stakes, but this time, Victory Gallop nosed out Real Quiet for the win at the wire.
The race was so close that a photo finish was required and track announcer Tom Durkin could not tell who won. “A picture is worth a thousand words,” he said at the conclusion of the race. “But this photo is worth $5 million!”
Photo finishes are common in horse racing, but less so in Triple Crown races and rarely is a Triple Crown winner determined by such a small margin. After a tense wait, the results of the photo showed that Victory Gallop’s nose reached the wire first, denying Real Quiet a win and place in history as what would have been the first Triple Crown winner in 20 years.
No surprises here, but Secretariat’s 1973 Belmont win earns the number one spot as the most dramatic Belmont Stakes in history.
When Secretariat began his bid for the Triple Crown, no horse had accomplished the feat since Citation in 1948. Racing fans were anxious for another winner; a feast of four winners in the 1940s was followed by a 25-year famine that included seven unsuccessful attempts by horses that had won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes.
Everything about the day and the performance was memorable. Secretariat and jockey Ron Turcotte distanced themselves from the pack early in the race, catching even television announcer Chic Anderson off guard, who exclaimed in surprise, “But Secretariat is all alone!” As the duo picked up steam, he gave fans what is known as the most well-known race call in history: “Secretariat is widening now! He is moving like a tremendous machine!” Secretariat’s margin grew as Turcotte looked over his shoulder in disbelief.
Secretariat ended the race in a flurry of superlatives. The final margin of victory, 31 lengths (equaling almost 1 1/16 of a mile) broke the previous race record of 25 lengths. His final time of 2:24 was a new record, breaking the previous record time by two full seconds. The time was also a track record and is a record for any dirt race of that distance in the United States.
What will racing fans witness this year? Don’t miss the 151st running of the Belmont Stakes on June 8th. Visit TVG, TwinSpires or Xpressbet online to watch and wager on the race from home or take the excitement with you on your phone.