Horse Racing

What Is the Belmont Stakes? Key Details and History

FanDuel Staff
FanDuel Staff
What Is the Belmont Stakes? Key Details and History

As June 8th draws closer, horse racing is getting more abuzz about the 2024 Belmont Stakes. But, if you are new to horse racing, you may be curious about what the Belmont Stakes is and why it is so important. Keep reading to find out about all this and more.

Belmont Stakes Facts

The Belmont is one of the longest-running races on the North American racing calendar, and remains one of the most important. Even though it was sometimes run before (or even on the same day as!) the Preakness in its early days, it has become the traditional third and final of the Triple Crown races. It is run five weeks after the Kentucky Derby, and three weeks after the Preakness.

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Belmont Stakes History

The Belmont Stakes is the oldest of the three Triple Crown races: first run in 1867, it came six years before the first Preakness and eight years before the first Kentucky Derby. In fact, the race predates Belmont Park as well—it was named after August Belmont, Sr., the father of Belmont Park co-founder August Belmont, Jr. The race was run at Jerome Park from 1867 through 1889, and then at Morris Park from 1890 through 1904. The Belmont Stakes has been based at Belmont Park since 1905, except for a brief run at Aqueduct from 1963 through 1967 due to another renovation project at Belmont.

The Belmont Stakes has been run at a wide range of distances, as well. It has gone as short as 1 ⅛ miles and as long as 1 ⅝ miles. However, 1 ½ miles on the dirt has become the traditional distance for the race: it covered 1 ½ miles every year between 1926 and 2023, except for 2020, when it was shortened to 1 ⅛ miles due to changes to the COVID pandemic year’s racing calendar.

Race Location

In modern times, the Belmont Stakes is traditionally run at 1 ½ miles on the dirt at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. However, the New York Racing Association is tearing down and rebuilding the grandstand at Belmont Park, and racing cannot happen at the track due to ongoing construction. So, the final jewel of the Triple Crown will be run at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 2024 and 2025.

Because the starting gate would have to be on a turn if they tried to run a 1 ½-mile dirt race at Saratoga, the distance of the Belmont Stakes will be only 1 ¼ miles in 2024. The distance is shorter than usual, but still a significant test of stamina. And, it is not the only time the Belmont Stakes has been run at a different distance. In a history that stretches all the way back to the first Belmont Stakes in 1866, the race has been run at distances ranging from 1 ⅛ miles to 1 ⅝ miles. The race will return to its 1 ½-mile distance when it returns to Belmont Park for the 2026 running.

Of course, this brief run at Saratoga Race Course is not the first time the Belmont Stakes has been run outside of Belmont Park. The race predates Belmont Park—it was named after August Belmont, Sr., the father of Belmont Park co-founder August Belmont, Jr. The race was run at Jerome Park from 1867 through 1889, and then at Morris Park from 1890 through 1904. The Belmont Stakes has been based at Belmont Park since 1905, except for a brief run at Aqueduct from 1963 through 1967 due to another Belmont Park renovation project.

The Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown

The Belmont Stakes is the traditional third and final in the series of Triple Crown races. Given the fact that it is usually run at 1 ½ miles, the longest distance of the three races in the series, it is called the “Test of the Champion.”

The taxing five-week Triple Crown schedule and the demanding distance of the Belmont Stakes has taken its toll on many Triple Crown aspirants. A total of 13 horses have won the Triple Crown, but 20 more have swept the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness only to fall short, by either not winning the Belmont or, in a few cases, not even starting it.

Triple Crown Winners

Even though the order of what we now know as the Triple Crown wasn’t set in stone through the early days, all 13 horses who have won the Triple Crown to date have run their final leg in the Belmont Stakes. Sir Barton became a Triple Crown winner at Belmont in 1919, and the tradition has continued all the way through Justify’s run in 2018.

The most impressive Belmont Stakes winner in history is one of these Triple Crown winners. When Secretariat became Triple Crown champion in 1973, he won the Test of the Champion by 31 lengths over Twice a Prince. His 1 ½-mile time of 2:24.0 is still the record for the race, and Belmont Park honors his achievement by putting a blue and white pole—matching the colors of his silks—31 lengths from the finish line.

Other Belmont Stakes Winners

Many important horses have won the Belmont Stakes but did not win the Triple Crown. Atop that list is the great Man O’ War, who did not contest the 1920 Kentucky Derby because he was deemed not yet ready, but went on to sweep the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes when he was.

Women have also made their mark in the Belmont in a way they have not yet in the other legs of the Triple Crown. Julie Krone became the first woman to ride the winner of a Triple Crown race when she guided Colonial Affair to victory in the 1993 edition of the Belmont Stakes. Then, 30 years later, Jena Antonucci became the first woman to train an American Classic winner when she conditioned Arcangelo to a Belmont victory.

Belmont Stakes Symbols

Just as is the case with many major horse races, there are traditions and symbols that are associated with the Belmont.

White Carnations

The official flower of the Belmont is the carnation. Just as the Kentucky Derby winner gets a blanket of roses and the Preakness winner a blanket of black-eyed Susans, the winning horse in the Belmont Stakes is presented with a blanket of white carnations.

Belmont Jewel

The matter of the official drink of the Belmont Stakes is a little less straightforward than the flower, however. The Derby has the mint julep, and the Preakness has a black-eyed Susan—though even then, there have been a few different cocktails called the black-eyed Susan over the years!

The history of the official drink of the Belmont is even more muddled. The current official drink of the Belmont Stakes is the aptly-named Belmont Jewel, a simple yet delicious concoction of bourbon, lemonade, and pomegranate juice served with a lemon twist.

However, the Belmont Jewel has only been the official drink of the race since 2011. Before that, it was the more complicated Belmont Breeze. The Belmont Breeze is also a bourbon-based drink, though it is mixed with sherry, lemon juice, simple syrup, orange juice, cranberry juice, mint leaves, and garnishes of mint and orange.

Before 1997, the final Triple Crown race had yet another official drink: the white carnation. Unlike the more recent official drinks of the Belmont Stakes, the white carnation is a vodka-based drink that also contains peach schnapps, orange juice, soda water, a splash of cream, and a slice of orange.

New York, New York

Just like the official drink of the Belmont Stakes, the official song has also gone through some iterations over history, as opposed to the “My Old Kentucky Home” at the Derby or “Maryland, My Maryland” at the Preakness.

The current theme song for the Belmont is “New York, New York,” though Frank Sinatra’s version makes it sound smoothly old school; his recording was from 1979, and the original Liza Minelli version was only two years older than that. Still, it didn’t first become the official Belmont theme song until 1997. Before that, the theme was “Sidewalks of New York.”

Even so, it hasn’t been that simple. In 2010, Belmont Park used “Empire State of Mind” by Alicia Keys and Jay-Z as the Belmont theme. However, the track switched back to “New York, New York” the next year.

2024 Triple Crown Races

The Belmont Stakes is the last of three races in the American Triple Crown of Thoroughbred horse racing. It happens five weeks after the Kentucky Derby and two weeks after the Preakness Stakes.

Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby, the first race of the Triple Crown series, happens on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. In 2024, the Derby happened on May 4. The race covers 1 ¼ miles on the dirt: typically two furlongs shorter than the Belmont, though it is the same distance as the Belmont in 2024 and 2025.

In a thrilling Derby finish where the top three horses were separated by mere noses, a nifty inside run by 18-1 long shot Mystik Dan got him to the front, where he held over Sierra Leone and Forever Young to win the blanket of roses.

Preakness Stakes

The Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of the Triple Crown, happens two weeks after the Kentucky Derby at Pimlico Race Course, meaning the 2024 edition happened three weeks before Belmont day. The 1 3/16-mile distance makes it the shortest race of the Triple Crown.

Mystik Dan continued down the Triple Crown trail in Baltimore. However, Seize the Grey seized the lead in the early stages of a muddy 2024 Preakness Stakes and led them all the way around, leaving the Derby winner to chase on for second.

What is the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival?

Between Thursday, June 6 and Sunday, June 9, there will be 24 stakes races at Saratoga, totaling over $10 million in purses: the four-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival. It is an entire weekend of important stakes races built around the Belmont Stakes.

It is one of the more recent Belmont Stakes traditions: even though there have long been some important races run on the same card as the Belmont Stakes, it was only in 2014 when Belmont Park launched the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival as we know it today.

Some people refer to it as a miniature Breeders’ Cup in the middle of the year, and that description is no exaggeration. Between Thursday and Sunday of Belmont Stakes weekend, there are major races in every major division of North American horse racing.

To see 2024 Belmont Stakes post positions and individual horse odds, read more at FanDuel Research.

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