Jun 1 2014

5 Fond Memories From The Past 25 Belmont Stakes


Hansel with Jerry Baily

Of all the Triple Crown races, I’ve witnessed the Belmont Stakes in person more than any other. And I think I’ve seen it all. My very first was in 1991 when I watched Hansel desperately hold off Strike The Gold in deep stretch to win by a head, and complete his Preakness-Belmont Stakes double. And this completed my personal double of witnessing the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes in the same year. The next year I saw heavily favored A.P. Indy, with his notable head down running style, grind out a win over a hard-charging European horse named My Memoirs, who was 18-1.  Later that year A.P. Indy went on to win the Breeders Cup Classic, and was subsequently retired to stud, where he went on to be a tremendous success, siring more than 140 Stakes winners.

In 1998 I returned to watch Real Quiet’s attempt to win the Triple Crown. He went off the 4-5 favorite, and at the 1/8 pole he looked like a sure winner. One furlong remained … one furlong to winning the Triple Crown and having his owners collect a $5 million dollar bonus offered that year to any horse capable of winning the elusive Triple Crown.

After the race, the jockey of Real Quiet, Kent Desourmeaux was criticized by many for making a premature move with Real Quiet. I’ve watched the replay of this race at least 20 times and I’m still on the fence on this critique. A little more patience might have paid off late, but who can fault a man facing the opportunity of a lifetime from seizing the moment. Here’s the video replay.  You be the judge.  Either way, it is one of the most thrilling finishes in Belmont Stakes history.  And Tom Durkin’s race call is electric.

In 2003 Funny Cide captured the imagination of many people here in upstate New York. He was purchased for $75,000 by some local men in the Saratoga area before going on to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. I had mixed emotions going into the Belmont Stakes. Like many people I was ready for a Triple Crown winner, and I thought Funny Cide would make a great story. He was sired (first crop) by Distorted Humor, who would go on to become (and still is) an incredibly successful sire. But I felt that the trainer (Bobby Frankel) for Empire Maker (2nd in the Kentucky Derby) had made a shrewd move by skipping the Preakness and focusing on the Belmont Stakes. It turned out to be a winning move, as he won the Belmont Stakes, denying yet another potential Triple Crown winner.

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In 2004 I returned once again to witness history in the making, or so I hoped.  Smarty Jones was a 1-5 favorite and was a sure thing to end this Triple Crown drought that had now exceeded a quarter of a century.  I bought a souvenir win ticket, with no intention of cashing, to bring home and frame after the coronation was complete.  Me and 120,000 fans were ready. We yelled when the gates opened and we cheered Smarty Jones to the lead at the top of the stretch.  The entire building was rocking with a reverberation of sound that was deafening.  And then, in a span of seconds, as 36-1 Birdstone was passing the anoited one in deep stretch, we collectively went silent. Wow, I have never heard so little noise from so many people. Truly memorable.  The only sound remaining was Tom Durkin saying, “And Birdstone wins the Belmont Stakes.”

Colonial Affair

Colonial Affair at Saratoga

But my favorite recollection comes from 1993. My wife and I talked her parents into loading up their RV and making a road trip to Long Island. We stayed at a campground some thirty miles east of Belmont Park on Long Island. The day of the big race, we had to navigate our way over to Belmont Park. Little did we know you can’t drive an RV on many of the local roads due to height restrictions. OMG is all I can say. I’m sure we broke a few traffic laws, and cleared a couple of overpasses by only inches, but somehow we made it to the track.

Race day was wet and dreary. Wagering wise, I wasn’t having a good day, but I was waiting for the Belmont Stakes. I had been touting Colonial Affair all week to my friends. I was confident his sire (Pleasant Colony) had passed on enough of his stamina genes to get him the 12 furlongs. On board was Julie Krone, with a chance to become the first female jockey to win a triple crown race. And the price was certainly right, he went off at 13-1. Well, in the end Colonial Affair lived up to my hype and did win the Belmont Stakes. And, to this day Julie is the only female jockey to win a Triple Crown race.

A final personal footnote to this story.  After the races we tailgated in the parking lot in the RV.  That’s why we brought the RV.  Ah … beers and burgers to celebrate our victorious day!

Unfortunately, it was raining pretty hard and we had trouble starting our portable gas grill. So my friend Martin gets the bright idea to put the cover on and let some gas build up. Then he handed me the lighter and stood back. POOF!!! I singed my eyebrows on that brilliant idea. Life lesson: You can get away with drinking and gambling, but never mix drinking and combustion.

Neal Headshot2
By Neal Benoit

One comment on “5 Fond Memories From The Past 25 Belmont Stakes

  1. I believe the original thought involving
    the loss of victory by Real Quiet
    was attributed to Kent being deaf in one
    ear, not aware of Victory Gallop grinding
    away through the stretch ,and/ or the
    roaring of the crowd.

    The loss of hearing occurred as a result on an injury which occurred several years prior
    to the Belmont.

    As an fyi I was positioned at the finish line,
    (section 2p),couldn’t believe the loss.

    I’ve attended every Belmont stakes race
    since 1975, can’t believe I’m missing
    this year’s event. 🙁




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