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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A day at the Belmont Stakes

If you follow the blog, you probably know by now that I am a horse person. If not, welcome to today's revelation and post about horse racing. Although my love for horses has brought me to a lot of horse shows and horse related events, I have never been to any of the bigger horse races (excluding watching a quick race at Saratoga in New York about 6 years back). 

Belmont Park

As far as horse races go here in the states, the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes are the biggies, all with the three races for three year old thoroughbreds that make up the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. To have a Triple Crown Winner, you need the same horse to win all three races in one season- this feat being one of the greatest accomplishments in thoroughbred horse racing.

The Belmont is held 5 weeks after the Kentucky Derby, and 3 weeks after the Preakness Stakes. I knew the Kentucky Derby was obviously in Kentucky, and assumed the other famous horse races that make up the Triple Crown were somewhere far far away as well. Little did I know that the last, longest and toughest race of the Triple Crown Series, the "Test of the Champion" and "Run for the Carnations", was held right here in the northeast- on Long Island. Jump in the car and in about a 2 hour drive, you can be trackside watching the Belmont Stakes.

Clubhouse Seats 

1. The Belmont is the oldest Triple Crown race. It was first run in 1867, while the inaugural Preakness was in 1873 and the Kentucky Derby debuted in 1875. 

2. The 1973 Belmont Stakes and Triple Crown winner Secretariat holds the mile and a half stakes record (which is also a track and world record on dirt) of 2:24. At the finish, he won by 31 lengths, breaking the margin-of-victory record set by Triple Crown winner Count Fleet in 1943 of 25 lengths. It is pretty impressive to see and you can watch it here.

3. The Belmont Stakes and Belmont Park, the race’s host track, were both named for August Belmont I who made his fortune in the banking industry in the 1800s and was a prominent social figure and politician.

4. The race is run on the longest main track in the country at 1 ½ miles. Many other tracks are one mile or 1 1/8 miles, including Churchill Downs and Pimlico (both are one mile long). Because of this, the Belmont Stakes is sometimes referred to as the “Test of the Champion.” This is the third race in five weeks for many 3-year-olds, the Belmont either breaks or makes top racehorses.

5. Winner Man o' War (1920) sired three horses who also won the race: American Flag (1925), Crusader (1926) and Triple Crown winner War Admiral (1937).

6. In the early years of the Belmont, the race was run clockwise (as races are run in England). The first counterclockwise Belmont Stakes was run in 1921.

7. The white carnation is the traditional flower of the Belmont Stakes. The blanket of more than 700 carnations worn by the winner takes 10 hours to put together. The flowers are shipped in from either California or Bogota, Colombia.

9. Since 1905, the No. 1 post has produced the most winners: 23. Thirteen winners have started from both the No. 3 and No. 5 gates.

10. At the Belmont, there are thirteen races throughout the day, with the famous Belmont Stakes being race number 11.

Famous Secretariat 

In 2017, "Always Dreaming" won the Kentucky Derby and "Cloud Computing" won the Preakness. Therefore, 2017 was not a "Triple Crown Year" and the crowds were much smaller (fine by me!). This was to be my first real horse race and I was stupidly excited to watch the races and sip Belmont Jewels among friends.

In 2018, not only was it a Triple Crown year, but I was in the grandstands as Justify crossed the finish line and was welcomed into the ranks of Triple Crown History (what a moment to watch!). 

Famous Horses

2018 Belmont 

A friend I dive with attends the Belmont every year with a group of friends and this year, invited me to tag along. We had a driver, we had tickets, all I needed was an "appropriate" dress and a floppy hat and I was ready to head to the races. In pursuit of a dress, I went to Rent The Runway where I found this Slate & Willow "Blue Floral Brushstroke Dress" that would be the perfect Belmont attire. I paired with it one of my floppy hats I already owned and because of the long day of walking (and drinking), donned a pair of flip flops. Ready for the races we were.
Rent the Runway Rental

The ride up to Belmont was filled with Frank Sinatra and Chris’ specialty cocktail, a make on a John Daly with Wild Turkey Whisky, Iced Tea and Monster Lemonade….. as Chris claimed, we were “going gobbling”. Our backseat bartender mixed up the cocktails and we arrived at the track with a good buzz (sorry mom), a lot of excitement, and perfect weather.

The book with all the juicy stats you "need" to place bets (or you just pick fun names)

Placing Bets

First things first, we bought a booklet with all the statistics we would need to place our bets. Note: I am NOT a gambler so Chris sort of took the ropes on this one. Chris (tried) to educate me on this whole betting thing and we made bets throughout the day (no, we didn’t hit anything large or leave all our money at the track). I was really impressed with our seats as we were sitting right above the finish line with fantastic views of the last leg of the race. This was in stark comparison to the groups of heavily intoxicated (and usually much younger) individuals who were watching the race on large screens out on the lawn. The seats certainly had a much calmer crowd than the rowdier general admission section down below. If you do attend the Belmont, I highly advise going the seat route vs the general admission madness (personal preference at almost-30). 

Views from our seats - approaching the Finish Line 

General admission area down on the grounds

We spent the day watching races (as I said, there are 13!) walking around the grounds, stopping in Food Truck Alley and of course, sipping on Belmont Jewels, the signature drink of the Belmont Stakes. While not as glamorous and well known as the Kentucky Derby's Mint Julep (but likely just as pricey), they were refreshing on a hot June day at the races. Let’s be honest, can you go to the races and not try the signature drink?  

The Belmont Breeze is a concoction of bourbon, sherry, orange and cranberry, and mint - it wasn't the most attractive drink and while it was okay, it was not something I would order again. Aside from Belmont Jewels there were also hot dogs and beers, pretzels and water, and a whole lot of other options for the boozing and binging crowd at the race.

One of many cocktail tents 

Belmont Jewels
Local brews 

We were there for race 2 through 11 (the actual Belmont Stakes). The energy for that 11th race was amplified for the famous stakes, and it was an awesome experience to be sitting on the finish line of this famous race. For race number 11, "Tapwrit overtook favored Irish War Cry in the stretch to win by two lengths, giving trainer Todd Pletcher his third career victory in the Belmont. He won in 2007 with filly Rags to Riches and in 2013 with Palace Malice". Sure, would it have been more exciting if it was a Triple Crown Year (likely!) BUT - I enjoyed the fact that the crowds were much thinner and the whole experience a lot more enjoyable.

Race 11 - Belmont Stakes 

Race 11 Results 

All in all, we had a fantastic day at the races, enjoying the summer sun in Long Island at the famous Belmont Stakes. We had a ton of fun dressing for the occasion, and an event like this one was a sure way to kick off the summer season on the right foot. Thanks Chris for the invite and the introduction into the world of horse racing ;)


  1. Wait... You really didn't know where Belmont Park is?!
    Sounds like a super fun day!

  2. Had N O O O idea! Embarrassing, right? It was such a fun day and certainly made me want a OTTB ;)

  3. I hadn't really considered attending the Belmont before, but this seems a lot more casual than the Kentucky Derby. Plus, it's just one reason on a long list of them as to why you can never tire of New York City! Any plans to attend the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness in the future after this experience?


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