Thirty-two horses have faced the starter seeking to be immortalized as Triple Crown winners in the Belmont Stakes. They arrive having won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes within two weeks in May against the best 3-year-olds, and to secure the Triple Crown three weeks after the Preakness they need to win the Belmont over a grueling mile and a half.
The fact that only 12 have been successful shows just how immense a task it is.
Of the Triple Crown winners, none were more notable than Secretariat, who annihilated the 1973 field by 31 lengths to become the first Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948, in a record time that still stands. Almost as dominant was Count Fleet, a 25-length victor in 1943.
Just as thrilling was the 1978 running, when Affirmed, having beaten Alydar into second place in Derby and Preakness, this time beat Alydar by a nose to secure the Triple Crown. In more recent times, American Pharoah broke a 37-year drought to win the Triple Crown in 2015.
Of the 20 to miss out, none got closer than Real Quiet, run down in the last strides in 1998 by Victory Gallop. Injury afflicted some of the contenders, none more surprisingly so than Spectacular Bid, who stepped on a safety pin on the morning of the 1979 race.
In other notable Belmont Stakes runnings, the great Man o’War won by 20 lengths in 1920, while other wide-margin victors include Gallant Man (1957), Easy Goer (1989), and Point Given (2001). Rags to Riches (2007) became the first filly to win since 1905, while few training successes were more notable than those of Woody Stephens, whose horses won the Belmont in five successive years from 1982 to 1986.
First run in 1867, the Belmont Stakes, held at Belmont Park racecourse in Elmont, New York, on Long Island, is the oldest of the three Triple Crown races. It settled at its current distance of a mile and a half in 1926.
Punters need to assess if horses that have run in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness have the stamina to step up from a mile and a quarter to a mile and a half their ability to recover from the two earlier Triple Crown races, and whether newcomers to the series are good enough to make a winning challenge.