Ode to the Belmont

1973 Belmont - Secretariat Triple Crown Win

I admittedly have not always been a huge (or even small) horse racing fan.  Back in the day though, there were three major sports: baseball, boxing, and horse racing. Racing is clearly not on that pedestal anymore, but can any of the modern major sports boast that they own “The most exciting two minutes in sports?”

Recently, I have had a resurgence in my horse racing fandom. One of my buddies has a yearly Kentucky Derby party complete with mint juleps and burgoo.  It also gets no better than bourbon and hats. I actually own a few fedoras and can proudly wear them that night.  All the guests get souvenir glasses and pick horses.  Winner gets a bouquet of roses.  This year, my buddy, Craig, was out of town for Derby weekend.  I still watched at home, but it wasn’t the same.  Have no fear though, he is going to make it up to us with his first annual Belmont party!

The Belmont struggles for respect compared to the other two legs of the Triple Crown for a couple reasons.

  • If the Derby winner loses the Preakness, the Belmont importance drops significantly with no chance for a Triple Crown winner.
  • The Belmont typically features less horses than the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness.
  • It also does not have an easily recognizable official drink like the Derby (mint julep) or the Preakness (black eyed susan).
  • Furthermore, Belmont Park is in Elmont, New York.  Most people think this a typo when I tell them, but it’s true.  

When a horse has won the Derby and the Preakness, the excitement around the Belmont builds, just like a lottery jackpot. Bottom line is: you cannot win the elusive Triple Crown without winning the Belmont. Many a horse has won the first two legs, but has failed in the mile and half oval in Elmont, New York.

The challenge of the Belmont has led to what are known as Triple Crown droughts, and they can last thirty or more years.  While winning the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness is awesome, winning the Belmont to complete the Triple Crown guarantees sport (and T-shirt) immortality. It is why I bought a Smarty Jones tee that I saw randomly in a drug store while on vacation in Philadelphia in 2004 one week before the Belmont. (Sadly, Smarty Jones finished second).

So it should really come as no surprise that the Belmont owns the most memorable horse racing moment. Secretariat’s awesome 31 length victory in the 1973 Belmont to win the Triple Crown was peak performance by an athlete on its greatest stage.  It is not often that an athlete (human or equine) is described as “moving like a tremendous machine.” If you have not watched Secretariat’s Triple Crown win, you should grab your choice of drink and check it out. There’s a 93% chance that you’ll  get chills. Seriously.