My dear readers and horse racing fans, the 2013 Triple Crown Season is about to end this upcoming Saturday, June 8th with the 145th running of the Belmont Stakes. Sadly, there is no possibility of a Triple Crown this year, but take heart that the Triple Crown horse will come. Racing has come so close over the past 35 years since Affirmed won it all in 1978. I really believe we will have a Triple Crown.
Maybe one of the offspring from Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, or my beloved Gio Ponti will be THE ONE.
The mind games, chess matches, and capitalizing on the right moments is what makes the race so awesome. Of course, seeing awesome horses like Man O’ War, Rags to Riches, Seattle Slew, and Point Given win the race, regardless of whether they were Triple Crown winners is what makes the race my personal favorite of the three Triple Crown Races.
Yes, I LOVE the Derby, but the Belmont is the “Test of a Champion.” Can a 3YO horse go that grueling distance of a mile and a half, ESPECIALLY when there is a Triple Crown on the line. After all, the horse ran a mile and a quarter in the Derby, a mile and three sixteenths two weeks after that, and three weeks later, a mile and a half. It is what makes the Triple Crown the hardest thing to do in sports.
I have seen two Triple Crown attempts in person. I saw Silver Charm’s attempt in 1997, and Real Quiet’s in 1998. It was a very exciting atmosphere at both races.
Even though Real Quiet came so close, I think I was more disappointed with Silver Charm’s defeat. I really loved “Charm.” I really did. I loved his trainer, Bob Baffert. I remember how crushed Baffert was the previous year’s Derby when Cavonnier was nailed at the wire by rival trainer D. Wayne Lukas’s Grindstone.
I remember how happy Baffert was at the 1997 Derby when his charge, “Charm” won by a nose. I really wanted the whole gang, Bob and Beverly Lewis, “Charm’s” owners, Baffert, and Silver Charm to win that Triple Crown, but Touch Gold came away with the Belmont.
In this blog, I am going to list my personal favorite editions of the Belmont Stakes. This is not a serious blog about the best of all time. That would be a much more serious blog.
I also have not obviously watched all 144 versions of the race either. This is just going to be a fun blog about the Belmont Stakes races that I have seen personally on TV, and I have seen on Youtube, and on racing broadcasts.
Before I reveal my Top Ten personal editions of the Belmont Stakes, I have a very brief update on 2012 Belmont Stakes runner-up Paynter.
On Sunday, June 2, Ahmed Zayat, Paynter’s owner, announced on twitter that Paynter is “ready” for a race. Paynter’s connections are now trying to find a race for his comeback. Paynter has been training very well, and is looking amazing.
Now, to my list. I hope you enjoy it, so as the track announcer would say, “…and, we’re off.”
10. 1977 Belmont Stakes: Seattle Slew Slays the Field to Win Triple Crown
As the saying goes, “You always remember your first kiss.” Well, as I told bassist Gene Simmons of KISS at the 15th Annual Indianapolis KISS Expo this past May, my childhood was comprised of Seattle, Affirmed, Alydar (more on A&A later), and KISS. He loved it.
Well, the first Belmont Stakes I ever watched on TV was the 1977 Belmont Stakes. Seattle Slew became my first hero of any kind. I loved music, and stuff, but as far as a sports hero, or a celebrity, Seattle Slew became a hero.
I loved how he first won the Derby despite washing out before the race, and then getting behind horses before taking the lead for good. He dispatched the rest of the horses in the Preakness, and then just toyed with them in this version of the Belmont Stakes.
It’s on the list, as it is my first Belmont, and also, Seattle Slew got me very interested in the Sport of Kings.
1977 Belmont Stakes Video: http://youtu.be/s9UqCwASKpc
9. 1982 Belmont Stakes: Conquistador Cielo Takes Belmont on Four Days Rest
I have said this time and again, “They don’t make them like they used to.” I apply it to just about everything, even horses. The Woody Stephens trained Conquistador Cielo just smashes this field on a sloppy track just four days after winning the Metropolitan Mile.
Yes. FOUR DAYS. That race was scintillating. What a horse he was. He goes on to become the 1982 Horse of the Year. He certainly deserved it.
I don’t see a horse today that could pull off what Conquistador Cielo did.
1982 Belmont Stakes Video: http://youtu.be/IDuajNdfTek
8. 2004 Belmont Stakes: Smarty Jones’ Triple Crown Hopes Go Bye Bye Birdstone.
Part of the greatness of the 1 1/2 Belmont is, like I said, to see if a 3YO can go the distance and win after racing two other races within a span of 5 weeks. Not only does the horse have to be exceptional, but a lot of stuff has to go right.
Going into the race, 2004 Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones had a huge following, especially in the Philadelphia area. His home track was Penn National. He had a rock star following, like Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, who would come later on the racing scene.
My Triple Crown horse was a horse named Birdstone, trained by Nick Zito. I love Zito as a trainer. Zito said in many interviews that he was happy with his career, and happy that he won 2 Derbies, and the Preakness, but he wanted to win his hometown Classic, the Belmont.
Unfortunately, Birdstone didn’t handle the slop at Churchill for the Derby. I was at that race. It rained cats and dogs all day. Birdstone skipped the Preakness, and his owner, Marylou Whitney entered him in the Belmont.
Well, poor Nick Zito and Mrs. Whitney, as Birdstone pulled the upset, and denied “Jones” the Crown. Mrs. Whitney, the classy lady that she was, apologized for the win. Zito was pretty subdue in his joy. After all, their horse defeated an extremely popular horse in Smart Jones who was trying to be the second Triple Crown winner to win it while unbeaten since Seattle Slew accomplished the feat in 1977.
Fortunately, for the two of them, the Belmont is run in June, so they were not going to be hit with snowballs from angry Smarty Jones fans from the Philadelphia area who had come up to NY to see “Jones” crowned.
I was happy, because I loved Birdstone, and Nick Zito finally won the Belmont.
2004 Belmont Stakes Video: http://youtu.be/4gAeTic_9Bo
7. 2005 Belmont Stakes: AFLEET ALEX MAKES LEMONADE WITH RIVALS
This was an awesome race featuring an awesome horse. In the 2005 Triple Crown season, Afleet Alex was running in support of a Lemonade stand to raise childhood cancer that was created by a little girl named Alex. He finished third in the Derby, but won the Preakness by five lengths, even after nearly falling after clipping heels with a horse in front of him.
This Belmont Stakes was just awesome. It was very touching to see Afleet Alex not only dominate, but just fly down the stretch.
2005 Belmont Stakes Video: http://youtu.be/1P4tZ-wVCXQ
6. 2001 Belmont Stakes: Point Given Leaves Field In Dust
I watch this Belmont, and I just shake my head. It is really sad just thinking about this race. I love it though. Point Given, who now stands at Calumet, was trumpeted as the next “great one.” I loved him. I saw him at the 2000 Breeder’s Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs, when he came charging just to come up short by about a head to Macho Uno. I saw that, and knew he’d be awesome.
I went to the 2001 Derby, and I thought I was going to be seeing the next great horse. Sadly, the track was souped up, and it was hard as a rock. That is how fast it was. I had heard that PG did not like that kind of track. I thought that his jockey, Gary Stevens, would keep him out of trouble.
Boy was I wrong. Gary Stevens inexplicably got PG too close to a hot, hot, HOT pace and PG wound up fifth in the Derby. Monarchos won in 1:59 4/5. Secretariat still holds the record by 2/5ths.
In the Preakness, Point Given showed the “real” Point Given, and mauled that field, including Monarchos, which brings us to the Belmont.
When I watch this race, I can’t think but “what might have been.” Even Gary Stevens admits he screwed up the Derby ride. Nonetheless, this particular Belmont is an awesome race in and of itself.
2001 Belmont Stakes Video: http://youtu.be/KtmWIWTh9bw
5. 1991 Belmont Stakes: Hansel Hangs On
This Belmont is one of my all time favorite versions. The 1991 Triple Crown season was very emotional for me. About 5 months prior, on November 15, 1990, my all time favorite racehorse, Alydar, passed away. I was devastated. It was so hard knowing that starting with the 1995 Triple Crown season, no more horses, sired by Alydar will be running.
However, on that very day that Alydar died, a son of his named Strike the Gold broke his maiden (won his first race) at Aqueduct. About 5 months later, on May 4, 1991, Strike the Gold wore the Roses.
Unfortunately, Strike the Gold didn’t win the Preakness, which was won by Hansel. However, the two horses gave racing fans a heck of a race in the Belmont.
This race is in my personal Top Five because back in 1991, New York racing did NOT allow ANY drugs to be used, including Lasix (an anti bleeding medication believed to be a performance enhancer). Many horses would skip the Belmont due to the Lasix ban.
However, at this point, racing tried this point system to try to entice horse owners to run their horses in all 3 Triple Crown races. A Triple Crown winner would get 5 Million, but if there was no Crown winner, whomever had the most points, that horse would get a Million Dollar bonus.
I personally think Hansel ran only because of the bonus. He didn’t bleed, but in deep stretch, it looked like to me he was struggling a bit. Of course, had Strike the Gold not been so far back, and had not been 7 wide on the turn, I think we would have had a different result.
Hansel not only held off Strike the Gold, but also won the 1 Million Dollar Bonus.
1991 Belmont Stakes Video: http://youtu.be/WtWq-OB4a5k
4. 1989 Belmont Stakes: Easy Goer “Silences” Rival’s Triple Crown Bid.
Easy Goer, trained by Shug MacGaughey (Orb’s trainer), was a well bred son of Alydar, out of the great broodmare, Relaxing. He was a phenomenal 2YO, and leading up to the 1989 Kentucky Derby, he was expected to be a sure fire Triple Crown winner.
Not so fast. A gorgeous, nearly black horse named Sunday Silence, trained by the legendary Charlie Whittingham, the winner of the Santa Anita Derby, an important KY Derby prep, crashed “Goer’s” coronation, and won the Derby. Easy Goer finished 2nd.
The Rivalry of the 80’s was on. Both horses knocked heads in a furious stretch battle in the Preakness, which Sunday Silence won by a nose.
The Belmont, which was supposed to crown Easy Goer as top dog, became the setting for the potential for Sunday Silence’s coronation as the Triple Crown winner. It is funny how life works.
However, Belmont Park was Easy Goer’s home track, and much like the New England Patriots, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the New Orleans Saints are difficult to beat at their “houses,” Sunday Silence and the other horses discovered that Easy Goer had a formidable home field advantage.
I always did feel that Easy Goer was the better horse. I just think maybe if he had a different jockey, he could have done much more. I am not trying to say that Pat Day was a bad jockey. He was an awesome jockey, and a great person. I just thought he lived up to his nickname (that fans gave him) Pat “Wait all” Day a bit too much at times.
As for this particular Belmont Stakes, it is a gem to watch. Easy Goer demonstrates why he is one of the best horses I have ever seen. Easy Goer ran the second fastest Belmont in history that day as well.
1989 Belmont Stakes Video: http://youtu.be/n2g0dME0NzE
3. 1973 Belmont Stakes: Secretariat Becomes the “People’s Champion.”
With apologies to WWE Superstar and movie star Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, my third favorite Belmont Stakes features a stunning chestnut son of Bold Ruler named Secretariat who became “the People’s Champion.”
Most people know the story of Secretariat by now, so I am not going to rehash it as this blog is getting long as it is. We all know about his owner, Mrs. Penny Tweedy (now Chenery), his trainer, Lucien Laurin, and that he set records in the Kentucky Derby, and the Preakness (the timing error at that time has been finally resolved, and the record is his), and the Belmont (won by 31 lengths, and set the track record).
Well, one of the main reasons I love this race is that the race solidified the fact that Secretariat became the “people’s champion.” The USA was in the midst of the Vietnam War, and a corrupt Presidential Administration. The USA needed a hero. The USA needed something to believe it at that time, and Secretariat was IT. The horse, let’s face it, was the only one who was honest, and the people could trust.
Why is this not my #1 favorite Belmont? Well, as scintallating as the performance was, I guess one could say that I am a bit “burned out” on this race. During every Triple Crown race, especially the Belmont, and during many racing broadcasts, this particular Triple Crown is played over, and over, and over.
I understand the significance, especially this year, being the 40th anniversary of the great horse’s Triple Crown. However, I liken it to rock stations playing “Free Bird,” “Hotel California,” or “Stairway to Heaven” over and over. You start memorizing them. They become a bit overplayed, especially “Free Bird.” Kind of the same with this race.
Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE this race with all my heart and soul. I sometimes argue with some folks who like to poo poo racing and say, “What? It’s only a horse.” (if you are not moved by this Belmont, you have no soul). I just wish it wasn’t on the “jukebox” so much, even with Chic Anderson’s fantastic call.
1973 Belmont Stakes Video: http://youtu.be/7-XBkm17oDU
2. 2007 Belmont Stakes: “Rags” Turns Early Trouble into “Riches” and Makes History.
The first Belmont Stakes, run in 1867 (100 years before I was born), was won by a filly named Ruthless. That is a very appropriate name for the winner of my second favorite Belmont Stakes, Rags to Riches. She was so gutsy and determined to win this race, despite trouble in the race from the start.
Right out of the gate, Rags to Riches tripped over her own feet, and had to run a bit wide all the way around, and got the lead in the far turn, but at the top of the stretch, she is in a dogfight of a duel with Curlin, the eventual two time Horse of the Year in the stretch.
After it’s all over, the lady is the Belmont Champ, the first filly to win the Belmont since Tanya in 1905.
This is my number two, not because it is a better race than the 1973 edition (remember, these Belmonts are MY personal favorites), but I just loved how Rags to Riches was so brave and strong to overcome the obstacles, and have that will to win to defeat one of the best horses in recent years in Curlin.
2007 Belmont Stakes Video: http://youtu.be/4xhrOk7jjTI
1, 1978: I Got Two Words For Ya: THE RIVALRY
Yes, I am stealing from Triple H and Shawn Michaels and the whole D-Generation X gang this time. If you were a die hard racing fan like I am, especially back in the late 70’s, and just said the two words, “The Rivalry,” folks knew what you meant. We all meant Affirmed and Alydar.
Since I plan to write a special blog about this particular Triple Crown series, I won’t go into a lot of detail. I also plan to write my 145th Belmont Picks and Predictions blog too.
That being said, I am going straight into why the 1978 Belmont is my number one Belmont.
Even though during their 2YO and 3YO seasons, the two horses met 10 times total (Affirmed 7, Alydar 3), who would have thought these two would give fans such a thrill in all three TC races, especially the Belmont? I loved how Alydar never gave up. He kept after Affirmed. He would not give Affirmed a chance to breathe. From the 5/8ths pole on, the two battled. Both horses and riders deserved kudos. Alydar made Affirmed work for that Belmont, and the Crown.
1978 Belmont Stakes Video: http://youtu.be/apBIGFWMFr0
I hope you enjoyed this blog as much as I did writing it. I look forward to the comments, and hearing YOUR personal favorite Belmont Stakes.
Terri Bey currently blogs for CamelClutchBlog.com about Wrestling, NFL, and other sports/pop culture related subjects. Her work has appeared in BleacherReport and for F4WOnline.com. Terri can be found here at Facebook- http://www.facebook.com/TerriBey and at Twitter- http://www.twitter.com/giopontifan