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4/28 - 7/16
9/8 - 10/29



  They Don't Build I'm Like This Anymore !     

Belmont ParkBelmont Park Logo

Belmont Park is located on 430 acres of prime real estate, in the town of Elmont, on Long Island, about twenty miles from New York City. The campus is massive, about double the size of Aqueduct Race Track, which is by no means small. The main track is a one and one half mile oval, the largest in the United States. It also contains a main turf course, which is a mile and five sixteenth and an inner turf course with a distance of a mile and three sixteenth. Both turf courses are unique in that they have chutes, something you usually don't see in turf racing.

The plant itself is also massive, the original Belmont Park was opened in May of 1905, and it's hard to believe but this magnificent race course was condemned in 1963. It would take five years to rebuild the facility and all major stakes races, including The Belmont Stakes, were transferred to Aqueduct.

Belmont ParkDid Peter Pan go to the Peter Pan?

Today the grandstand is a massive structure which can accommodate 90,000 fans, other than Belmont Day, the place must look strange. Seating capacity is thirty thousand plus and the clubhouse includes the Garden Terrace Dinning Room. The grounds have parking for 18,500 cars and the stable area can house 2,100 horses.                 

Obviously, Belmont Park is best known for the Belmont Stakes, the final and longest race of the series. Since The Kentucky Derby was added in 1875, only twelve horses have won the challenge. In the era I cover, since 1966, four horses have made the grade, Secretariat(1973), Seattle Slew(1977), Affirmed(1978), then a 37 year hiatus until American Pharoah(2015). Since 1966, seventeen other horses entered the Belmont Park starting gate, a mile and a half away from their own triple crown, "Big Sandy took it's toll, they all failed.

You can't cover the Belmont Stakes, without mentioning the super feat of one Woodford "Woody" Stevens, who starting in 1982, reeled off five consecutive Belmont victories with Conquistador Cielo, Caveat, Swale, Creme Fraiche and Danzig Connection. Stevens, a noted trainer in New York, was elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1976. Stevens passed away in 1998.

Besides The Belmont Stakes, Belmont Park is home to numerous stakes races, which includes a couple of their own triple racing series. The New York Handicapping Triple, a series for older horses, features the Metropolitan Mile, Brooklyn and Suburban Handicaps. The series has lost much of it's luster over the years, as the Brooklyn and Suburban were downgraded from Grade I to Grade II events. Only four horses have ever swept this series, Whisk Broom II(1913), Tom Foo(1953), Kelso(1961), Fit to Fight(1984).

The ladies got their chance to play in The New York Filly Triple Tiara, a series for three year old fillies, the female version of the triple crown. The set consisted of the one mile Acorn, the mile and one eight Mother Goose and the finale, the one and one quarter mile Coaching Club American Oaks. The original series was abandoned in 2002, when officials tried to tie a filly triple crown, with the male triple crown, adding the Kentucky Oaks and Black Eyed Susan and Coaching Club Oaks to triple crown race days. Eight fillies won the New York Filly Triple Tiara from 1957 - 2002, one of these winners was the great filly Ruffian(1975).

Ruffian, was a champion filly, who dominated her division in 1974-1975. Undefeated in her first ten starts, no horse got closer than two lengths from her. After her maiden victory, she would never go off at odds higher than forty cents on the dollar. Her last race was at Belmont Park, against Foolish Pleasure, that years Kentucky Derby winner, during the race she broke down and was euthanized. To honor this great filly she was buried in the Belmont Park infield, her nose pointed to the finish line.

The Belmont Park racing season sandwiches the Saratoga meet, the fall meet used to be a champion maker. For years the Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup were the final major stakes races of the season, often defining the horse of the year. In 1973 with Secretariat fever running wild, The Marlboro Cup was born, which was won by Secretariat. Along with the Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup, they became known as the Fall Championship Series. With the advent of the Breeders Cup, this series fell apart.

The Marlboro Cup was reduced to The Cup on live television, because cigarette advertising was banned on TV. The race was discontinued in 1987. The Woodward, has been moved to Saratoga. The Jockey Club Gold Cup while still a Grade I affair, is not what it used to be.

The Jockey Club Gold Cup, is today contested at one and one quarter miles, but prior to 1976 it was a real test of champions at a distance of two miles. This brings me to what I feel is a real injustice in the racing world, a horse named Kelso. Kelso, was never defeated in The Jockey Club Gold Cup, winning it five times from 1960 to 1964. Kelso won 39 of 63 races, finishing off the board only ten times, he faced all comers, all tracks, all surfaces, all distances, he consistently carried over 130 pounds, winning once with 136. His lifetime earnings $1,977,896 compare that to Mine That Bird, surprise winner of the 2009 Kentucky Derby, who's record had 18 starts winning 5 and earning $2,228,637 pushing poor Kelso farther down the earnings list he once dominated. Today winning the Breeders' Cup Classic earns a horse almost three million dollars. Enough ranting I'm not sure I can name five horses today anyways, back to Belmont Park. Belmont Park has hosted four Breeders' Cup days, but none since 2005.

The last area to cover at Belmont Park, is the beautiful paddock area. In the middle of the walking ring, stands "The White Pine" , legend has it that the area where Belmont Park resides, was once the site of a mansion with many pine trees surrounding it, most of these pines were used to construct the original track which opened in 1905. Somehow, August Belmont the man behind the building of the track, spared that tree, which is older than the track itself and has become the face of the Belmont Park Logo. It is also said that the ornate railings that circle the viewing section of the paddock where originally from Jerome Park, which was closed in 1894. The gates were moved to the old Belmont Park, and when that was demolished Perry Belmont, donated them to the new Belmont Park. In 1997 a new tradition was started as the jockeys silks on these railings were painted in the colors of famous horses who ran on the track. Prior to 1921 races at Belmont Park were run European style in a clockwise direction. Although it would seem Belmont Park and Elmont, the city in which it is located have something in common (other than most of their names), they do not. It is just a quirk of fate that put them together.

I've made a couple of trips to Belmont Park, but none since the early eighties. My first trip was to see another great warrior, Forego, run in the Met Mile, It was touch and go whether the Memorial Day card was going to be run in 1977 , as a mutual strike had been going on. I think it was settled in time, not sure but they did open the gates and fifty thousand plus turned out, with free admission, to watch Forego handily win the race, with new Bill Shoemaker in the irons who had recently replaced longtime rider Heliodoro Gustines.