The COVID-19 pandemic forced the 2020 Triple Crown races to be juggled on the calendar as the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve was postponed last year to the first Saturday in September with the Preakness Stakes moved to the first week in October.
The Belmont Stakes, however, was only pushed back a couple of weeks from June 6 to June 20 and was held as the first jewel of the 2020 Triple Crown. Read on for more details about that historic fact as well as 14 other interesting nuggets in advance of the 2021 Belmont Stakes.
1. The Belmont Stakes is the longest of the three Triple Crown races as well as the oldest. It’s contested at 1 ½ miles and was first held in 1867. This year is the 153rd running, compared with the 147th Derby and 146th Preakness.
2. The 2020 Belmont Stakes marked the first time since 1926 that the race was not contested at its famed 1 ½-mile distance. The COVID-19 pandemic led to many racetracks being temporarily shut down, the postponement or cancellation of key races on the Triple Crown trail, and the interruption of training schedules for trainers and their racehorses. That prompted the Belmont Stakes to be held at 1 1/8 miles around one turn and scheduled as the first leg of the Triple Crown instead of the last one for the first time in the race’s history. The race returns to its normal distance and placement as the final leg of the Triple Crown for 2021.
3. A record crowd of 120,139 turned out to watch Smarty Jones vie for the Triple Crown in 2004. The fan favorite was beaten by 36-1 longshot Birdstone. Conversely, the 2020 Belmont Stakes was held without spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Belmont Park will operate at a reduced capacity based on current New York State guidelines for the 2021 edition of the race, and will offer fully vaccinated sections within Belmont Park. Visit Belmont’s “Know Before You Go” page for additional details for fans attending this year’s event.
4. Historically, the betting favorite has won the Belmont Stakes 42% of the time (64 of 152 runnings) but just four of the last 16 editions featured winning favorites: Tiz the Law (2020), Justify (2018), American Pharoah (2015) and Afleet Alex (2005).
6. Speaking of Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner set a world record for 1 1/2 miles on the dirt when he won the 1973 Belmont in 2:24. He was so fast that Secretariat also holds the record for the fastest half-mile, three-quarters of a mile, one-mile, and 1 1/4-mile fractions in Belmont Stakes history.
7. Tapit has sired (fathered) three of the last seven Belmont Stakes winners: Tapwrit (2017), Creator (2016), and Tonalist (2014). This year he has probable favorite Essential Quality, the champion 2-year-old male of 2020 who suffered his first defeat when finishing fourth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve May 1 at Churchill Downs.
8. The first Belmont Stakes featured a total purse of $2,500, with the filly Ruthless taking home the $1,850 winner’s share. This year’s race is worth $1.5 million including $800,000 for the winner.
9. From 1882 through 1888, jockey James McLaughlin won six editions of the Belmont Stakes in the span of seven years. McLaughlin established the record for the most Belmont wins by a jockey that Eddie Arcaro equaled in 1955 with his sixth and final Belmont Stakes victory aboard Nashua. The leading active rider is Mike Smith with three wins in the race: Drosselmeyer (2010), Palace Malice (2013) and Justify (2018).
10. Trainer James Rowe Sr. in 1913 won his eighth Belmont Stakes with Prince Eugene, establishing a record has never been broken. Rowe also won the Belmont twice as a jockey in 1872 and 1873. The only other person to both ride and train a Belmont Stakes winner is George Martin Odom, who rode Delhi (1904) to victory and in 1938 saddled winner Pasteurized.
11. Julie Krone in the 1993 Belmont Stakes became the first woman to ride a winner in a U.S. Triple Crown race. Krone guided longshot Colonial Affair from off the pace to win by 2 ¼ lengths.
12. At odds of 70.25-1, Sarava gave bettors the biggest win payout in the history of the Belmont. His 2002 win earned bettors $142.50 for every $2 bet.
13. The 1921 Belmont Stakes was the first to be run in the counter-clockwise direction. That year, the 53rd running of the Belmont Stakes was a 1 3/8-mile race on the main track. Previous editions had been run clockwise, in accordance with English custom, on a fish-hook-shaped course that included part of the training track and the main dirt oval.
14. Twenty editions of the Belmont Stakes have been won by horses whose names began with the letter “C,” most recently Creator in 2016. The letter “S” ranks second with 18 winners, while no Belmont winner’s name has ever started with the letters “X” or “Y”.
15. Tiz the Law in 2020 became the first New York-bred winner of the Belmont Stakes in a remarkable 138 years. He joined Ruthless (1867), Fenian (1869), and Forester (1882) in the history books as the only New York-bred winners of the race.